It’s a twinkling, garland-wrapped tradition around the world: the Christmas tree.
- Experts say to counter emissions from making a plastic tree, it must be reused for 15 years
- Some Christmas tree growers offer a mulching service and will recycle live trees after the crazy season
- Environmental agencies urge people to avoid perpetuating demand for plastic Christmas products
Derived from pagan and Christian customs, the lush leafy symbol has become a staple of celebrations over the centuries.
But a silent war is taking place under the mistletoe – pine or plastic?
According to the latest ABS Household Spending Survey, Australians spend an average of $27 a year on Christmas decorations.
But before sprucing up your home with a new tree, sustainability experts urge trinket lovers to consider more eco-friendly alternatives to plastic trees.
Monash Sustainable Development Institute project manager Julie Boulton is urging Christmas revelers to drop plans to buy a new plastic tree, to avoid perpetuating demand for the products.
“[Plastic] produces far more emissions than a [live] tree,” Ms. Boulton explained.
“The emissions that were used to create this plastic Christmas tree in the first place, you would need to keep it for 15 years to compensate.”
Don’t upgrade, reuse
Zero Waste Australia campaign coordinator for the National Toxics Network, Jane Bremmer, said there were other issues to consider when investing in products made from non-recyclable plastics.
“We really want to avoid these plastics in our homes [made from] polyvinyl chloride, which contain dangerous flame retardant chemicals, phthalates… chemicals that we already know are harmful to human health,” she said.
But don’t rush to throw away your old plastic family Christmas tree.
Instead, CSIRO encourages Australians to use their plastic trees multiple times, rather than “upgrading” or buying a new tree every year.
“There are a lot of things we use that are made of PVC…some of them are potentially quite problematic,” said Britta Denise Hardesty, principal researcher for CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere.
“If someone has an artificial Christmas tree…be sure to store it properly and hopefully use it for many decades,” Dr Hardesty said.
“[It’s] better than getting something, using it, and then deciding, ‘Hmmm, I don’t like it that much, I might just get rid of it’.”
Ms Boulton said the best-case scenario would be to avoid buying anything new and get creative instead.
“There are other options… you can actually rent a tree,” Ms Boulton said.
“Christmas doesn’t have to be about buying something new…in fact, it’s about using what you already have and putting it all together in a fun way.”
This is a sentiment shared by Ms Bremmer.
“Go buy yourself a real live plant, if you can — put it in a nice pot and fix your decorations that way,” she said.
“There are so many wonderful ways to create a living Christmas tree.”
‘Throw it over the fence if we’re not there’
Elves across the country are hard at work on Christmas tree farms, and many are being affected by months of rainy weather and flooding.
Evergreen farms are found in every state in Australia, offering a biodegradable solution to the Christmas conundrum.
But if you make the decision to buy a living tree, what should you do with it when the bottoms aren’t stuffed and the decorations are falling off?
The Costa family have been selling Christmas trees from their farm in the Ballarat area for almost 50 years.
Cara Costa said there is an increasingly common solution.
“We invite our customers, after the Christmas tree season, to come and throw their tree or throw it over the fence if we are not there,” Ms. Costa said.
“Then what we do is mulch the Christmas trees. We then use it on our properties, or we take it home and use it in the field – to help with rain and water .”
More trees planted than cut
Lynette Macri offers the same service at her tree farm in Dural, New South Wales.
Ms Macri said it was important to “drag out” some misconceptions about the sustainability of Christmas tree growing.
“For every tree we cut, we plant more – there is always a loss, like with anything you plant,” Ms Macri said.
“We actually plant more trees than we cut each year…even the netting we use to transport them is completely recycled.”
The Victorian government’s Office of the Conservation Regulator (OCR) said it was important to take advantage of recycling services.
OCR program manager for the Grampians region, Don Coutts, said while the living Christmas trees were beautiful to look at, it was important not to throw them where they didn’t belong after the silly season.
“A lot of times, living Christmas trees don’t end up in the green bin or the municipal landfill,” Coutts said.
“That can be a problem, in terms of seed and disease spread, within [a] forest.”
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