Go green: Local experts make case for getting a real Christmas tree this season

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Parker Vivier and Marsden Olsen prepare to tie their tree to their car after purchasing from Frank Pichel’s tree lot, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Richmond. (AP Photo/Will Newton)

UTAH – (ABC4) – Most families adopt one of three methods when decking the halls: hauling the dusty, artificial tree down from the attic, taking a trip to a Christmas tree farm or lot, or heading up to the mountains – chainsaw or hatchet in hand –  to search for the perfect tree.

There’s been some argument over the “best” way to enjoy a Christmas tree. Proponents of real trees cite the pine smell and the family experience of “tree shopping” to corroborate their argument, while fans of artificial trees testify to convenience and cleanliness. While the truly correct answer depends on the family, in terms of sustainability, it seems that real trees are the frontrunner, according to some local tree experts.

The “reuse” element of the classic “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra doesn’t necessarily hold true for Christmas trees, according to Derek Peterson, owner of Peterson Tree Care. Despite the convenience, in terms of the environment, fake trees do more harm than good.

Not only are most fake trees shipped from China and packaged in cardboard that gets thrown away, but most new models of artificial trees also break or wear out in about five years, Peterson says. The plastic used in the trees is difficult to break down and ends up in a landfill.

“The fake tree is on earth forever, it doesn’t ever disintegrate,” Peterson says. “You can’t recycle it. It has a lot of chemicals in it.”

And while it may seem wasteful to cut down enough a new tree year after year, harvesting trees actually aids in wildfire prevention, according to Diane Simpson, public affairs specialist at Utah’s Bureau of Land Management State Office. The Bureau of Land Management provides permits for Utahns to cut their own Christmas tree from BLM land.

“Cutting down trees creates sustainable, natural fire breaks to prevent forest fires from aggressively moving through areas quickly,” she says.

And while getting a real tree seems to be the more sustainable option, not all trees are created equal.

Peterson warns against getting a tree at a big lot store, like Walmart or Lowe’s, for several reasons. Firstly, the trees are often not fresh cut. Typically, trees are shipped from densely forested states like Oregon and may have been cut as early as October. And because of this, many of the tree species native to Oregon aren’t also native to Utah.

“I know they probably spray them and everything, but [the trees] bring some harsh insect,” he says. “All those trees go to the green waste facility and then they’re mulched up. If someone spreads the mulch throughout their whole yard, the bug could hatch in the spring and kill other trees.”

While mulching is a typical, sustainable method of disposing of Christmas trees after the season, there are other ways to reuse trees, too.

Simpson says trees can be used as firewood, and ashes can be spread in the garden to keep insects away. She also recommends using sprigs the tree as air fresheners or making holiday crafts from the wood.

But whether your family opts to cut down a tree or visit a local tree lot or farm, there are plenty of options for this year. In addition to Peterson Tree Care, located in Elk Ridge, there are many local tree lots – like Baum’s Christmas Trees in Provo or Schmidt’s Farm and Greenhouse in West Jordan – that provide Utah native trees.

If you plan to cut your own tree, safety should be the first priority. The Bureau of Land Management recommends preparing ahead of time and ensuring your car is stocked with necessary supplies for tree cutting and as well as emergencies.

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