The word on the street last week was that a non-profit in San Francisco was renting Christmas trees to city residents for free to encourage the planting of trees and reduction of waste. We couldn’t find it, but other San Francisco-based organizations, including Friends of the Urban Forest and the SF Department of the Enviroment, are offering all kinds of trees adapted to the San Francisco weather (thought not for free).
It’s not just in San Francisco. All along the Peninsula you can find companies and organizations offering to rent and sometimes deliver a Christmas tree for the holidays. The idea may seem quaint but the implications are an important signal of American’s changing attitudes.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 25-30 million pine and fir trees are sold each year during the holidays. These trees take between 7 and 15 years each to grow to six or seven feet–the height which makes them acceptable to most Americans. And while there are as many as 4,000 Christmas tree recycling programs across the country, the status quo is that most of the 25-30 million trees end up in a landfill.
In addition, there’s the question of which is the more sustainable solution: a tree that’s been cut down or an artificial tree? To get at an answer, we would need more detailed information than is currently available to us. Where were the real trees grown and under what conditions? The top producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington. But how were they trees transfered to their final destination? How were they disposed of?
As for artificial trees, we know that 80% of those sold world wide are made in China. Most are made from plastic and metal and are most likely not recycled at the end of their use as decoration.
Renting a live tree bipases these questions. The trees are never cut, and the transportation to and from the point of purchase would be about the same under any scenario. But there are other benefits. According to Mercury News, for about the same price as a high-end precut tree, families can enjoy the smell of a tree for the entire season, reduce the risk of fires, and we would add, have to do a little less vaccuming after the holidays.
If you celebrate Christmas, consider a real tree that you can use over and over again. If you did get a pre-cut tree, visit Recology San Francisco‘s or Recology San Mateo County‘s website to see how you can recycle your tree.