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Daily News Blog

09
Dec

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like an Organic Christmas…Tree?

(Beyond Pesticides, December 9, 2020) For consumers, the holiday season is full of complicated choices, including the conundrum of how to find the perfect Christmas tree. The most important part of selecting a tree is not its size and shape, but rather finding one that will pose the least risk to the health of your family, pets, and the environment. Thus, the safest holiday choice for you, and yours, is purchasing an organic tree as opposed to one that is artificial or grown using harsh chemical methods. However, the organic tree industry is still fairly novel, therefore following these helpful tips can ensure you purchase a beautiful organic tree and dispose of it in a responsible way to begin the New Year.

Why Buy Organic?

Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays in the United States, with Christmas trees accompanying the celebration of the holiday season. On average, Americans purchase 25 to 30 million Christmas trees annually, with 2020 showing an almost 30 percent increase in sales. However, organic Christmas trees, which follow the same U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic standards as agricultural crops, make up only 1% of all Christmas tree purchases. Fortunately, public awareness regarding the need for more ecologically friendly, organic products is growing, along with the demand for more organic tree production.

Organic trees are a remarkable improvement from conventionally grown and artificial trees, in several ways. Conventionally grown Christmas trees use toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers for years before harvesting. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, eight pesticides make up 85 percent of all uses on Christmas trees: chlorothalonil, atrazine, simazine, glyphosate, hexazinone, carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, and dimethoate. These chemicals have numerous adverse health effects, including cancer, hormonal (endocrine) disruption, neurotoxicity, organ damage, reproductive/birth defects, asthma, and more. Furthermore, North Carolina State University finds a majority of conventional Christmas tree farms in North Carolina use the prevalent weedkiller glyphosate (Roundup), and the insecticide bifenthrin to treat 97.5 and 42.9 percent of all tree acres, respectively. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Pine needles and bark can harbor pesticide residues that are not only toxic to humans but pets as well. The most widely used pesticide in Christmas tree production, glyphosate, is systemic and plant roots and leaves absorb the chemical into the vascular system. These chemicals can leach out in sap (guttation) and contaminate tree water, thus exposing curious children and pets to toxic chemicals if playing around the tree or, in the case of animals, drinking the water.

Many people have the misconception that artificial trees may be an eco-friendly alternative to conventionally grown trees. However, artificial trees can be equally bad for the environment, pets, and children’s health as their conventional chemically grown counterparts. Most artificial Christmas trees are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), synthetic plastic. PVC can contain toxic additives, like phthalates (hormone disruptor), cadmium, organotin, and lead to stabilizing certain products, and WHO classifies it as a “known human carcinogen.” Because of the flammable nature of artificial trees, many companies apply flame retardants which cause reproductive toxicity, neurological toxicity, endocrine disruption, and cancer. Moreover, artificial Christmas tree labels warn individuals to avoid inhaling or eating any bits of toxic dust that may fall from the branches. 

Find a Christmas Tree

If you would prefer to go pesticide-free this holiday, purchase your organic tree as soon as possible—because of limited supplies they tend to sell out quickly. As of 2020, there are only 47 organic Christmas tree farms in the U.S. but, with the growing interest in organic agriculture, it is safe to assume that this number will grow in the future.

Here are some online resources to help you find some organic trees in your area:

  • Green Promise. This website has an organic Christmas tree sources list with operations in 22 states. It also has an eco-friendly gift guide to help you put green gifts under the tree.
  • Local Harvest. Along with Christmas trees, this site can also be used to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area. The Christmas tree search is pre-selected via the link.
  • Natural Baby Mama. This website hosts a 2017 list of organic Christmas tree farms by state and is a great resource for non-toxic tree options to ensure your family’s safety.
  • If you do not live close to any of the many farms on the above websites, other farms such as Silvertip Tree Farms in North Fork California will let you purchase trees on-line and ship them anywhere in the country.

If the cost of shipping a tree to your home is prohibitive, or you are unable to locate an organic tree farm using the resources above, the next best option is to try your local Christmas tree farm or a farmers’ market. If you purchase trees from tree lots or from large chain stores, it can be hard to determine where your tree is coming from. It is also easier to find “Charlie Brown” or “wild” trees at a tree farm than at big box stores or tree lots. These trees have a different physical appearance than pruned trees, but this more traditional aesthetic is appealing to some consumers.

Going to a local tree farm or farmers’ market does not guarantee you will be purchasing a tree that is grown organically or without synthetic pesticides, however, these settings give you the opportunity to speak with the farmer about their growing methods. Often, you can find trees that have not been overly pruned and grown without many chemical inputs. However, be aware that without organic certification, unless you know the farmer, any claims of sustainability hold very little weight since it has not been verified by a third party.

For example, if you live in the Washington, DC area, you can contact local farmer, Mike Tabor, from Licking Creek Bend Farm.

Cut Down Your Own Tree

This can be a fun family activity and a nice way to spend a little more time outdoors. It may also be more economical, as tree farms may charge you less if you cut the tree yourself. However, cutting your own tree does require some advanced planning. For guidance on the tree cutting process, please view the step-by-step instructions on Beyond Pesticides’ Christmas page. Remember, most tree farms do not allow customers to bring chainsaws or more industrial equipment to remove trees.

Buy a Living Tree

The best option, and probably the most adventurous, is to buy a tree that still has its roots and can be planted again after the holidays. To take this project on there are several things to consider, which one can find via the step-by-step instructions on Beyond Pesticides’ Christmas page. Adding a Christmas tree to your yard could become a fun tradition for your family, and if you purchase a small tree you could re-dig and re-plant the tree for several years!

Rent an Organic Tree

Take home a potted Christmas tree, and even decorations, for the holiday season. After Christmas, the company collects the tree, replants it, and lets it grow until next year. You will even get your money back, as long as the tree is looked after properly. Although the options for organic Christmas tree is limited, there are many west coast and international (i.e., United Kingdom [U.K.]) farms that offer organic tree rentals (while supplies last), including Our City Forest Planting the Future (California, U.S.) and London Christmas Tree Rental – Sustainable Pot Grown Christmas Trees (U.K.).

Tree Care

Once you have brought a beautiful organic tree back to your home, it is important to give it proper care and attention, so it remains fresh throughout the holiday season. For guidance on how to maintain your tree, please view the step-by-step instructions on Beyond Pesticides’ Christmas page. For additional tree maintenance tips, the National Christmas Tree Association has helpful information on different tree species.

Alternatives to Artificial Trees

If a real Christmas tree does not suit your needs, consider these alternatives to toxic artificial PVC trees:

  • CB Safari. This website produces locally sourced and 100% recyclable cardboard Christmas tree, and other holiday products in unique, and aesthetic designs.
  • Esty. This website is a global marketplace where you can find homemade and organic Christmas items like trees, wreaths, and various gifts.
  • Do-it-yourself with sustainable materials, like this driftwood Christmas tree, or even an edible Christmas tree using organic ingredients.

Tree Disposal/Recycling

If planting a tree seems too daunting or is just not feasible, there are ways to dispose of your tree in an eco-friendly way. First and foremost, it is important to make sure your tree avoids a landfill after the festivities. According to Sierra Club, an estimated 10 million Christmas trees unnecessarily end up there each year. For tips about how to properly recycle your tree, please view the Beyond Pesticide’s advice on the Christmas page. Additionally, online resources like Earth911 allow users to search for local recycling centers that accept Christmas trees.

Holidays can be complicated, but one decision that you can feel confident about is your Christmas tree purchase. By purchasing an organic Christmas tree, you are making the responsible choice for the health of your loved ones and the environment. Also, by recycling your tree responsibly after the holiday season, you will make sure that your tree can be a gift that keeps on giving to your garden, birds, fish, or goats.

Do not forget to decorate your tree and home using eco-friendly materials and consider choosing organic/eco-friendly gifts for loved ones like gifts from Beyond Pesticides’ online shop.   

For more information about pesticides and Christmas trees, visit Beyond Pesticides webpage on Pesticide-Free Holidays, specifically the Christmas section.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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