Knowing I’m getting the Christmas week for my column, I started to write with the intent of celebrating how the environment supports our holiday cheer. I apologize if the mixed results of my research leaves you feeling there is a “Grinchy” tinge to your green Christmas.
There is a wide variety of holiday traditions, favorites and essentials in different families, communities and cultures that draw their inspiration from nature.
The most obvious, of course, is the Christmas tree. Ancient cultures brought evergreen branches into their homes during the short winter days to remind themselves the warmth and light of the sun would return, bringing with it green growth.
For many, it continues to be a symbol of life and hope. For others, it represents family tradition or simply something pretty and fresh to decorate.
Growing trees, including Christmas trees, produce environmental benefits we all enjoy. A typical tree for the holiday market take between seven and 10 years to grow to household size.
A Scotch pine growing for 10 years will have intercepted 1,850 gallons of stormwater and sequestered 480 pounds of carbon. One acre of these growing trees produces enough oxygen for about 18 people.
Most Northwest Indiana trees are grown in Michigan, which had more than 22,000 acres in trees in 2006. (There are local tree producers, but Indiana doesn't grow enough to be tracked separately). Anyway, those acres of trees would have produced enough oxygen for more than 400,000 people.
Many trees are farmed on marginal crop land, providing soil stabilization benefits, buffer zones between developed and natural landscapes, and shelter for wildlife.
On the other hand, modern Christmas tree farming is similar to other commodity agriculture. Production requires fertilizer, pesticides, fossil fuels and irrigation. Those same 22,000 acres of Michigan Christmas trees received application of 59,800 pounds of agricultural chemicals. Only 1 percent of Christmas trees in the United States are produced organically.
So, the cut Christmas tree has some good green marks, and some not so good ones.
One way your Christmas tree can keep giving is to put the used tree outdoors for extra winter bird and wildlife shelter.
Most of our cities and towns also offer curbside tree recycling. Your tree can come back later as mulch or compost, which helps save water throughout the year!
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