Some folks may think they’re being environmentally responsible by buying an artificial tree, but Gragg said the opposite is true.
“They’ll buy one fake tree and maybe keep it five years or so, and then it goes in the landfill where it will stay forever and ever,” Gragg said. “Since it is an oil-based product and has other components in it, it will not biodegrade.
“That’s why we’re trying to get the word out — if you want to buy environmentally friendly trees, buy real Christmas trees.”
She said real trees absorb carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases and release fresh oxygen into the air. She said one acre of Christmas trees provides the daily oxygen requirement for 18 people.
Real trees are renewable and fast growing. And they can be recycled. Wildlife resource agencies use real trees as fish habitats in area lakes, while some zoos use trees for bird habitats. Gragg said real trees are also used as wind and water barriers at beaches and in riverbeds to prevent sand and soil erosion.
And real trees are turned into mulch for landscaping purposes.
For years, the city of Kingsport and Keep Kingsport Beautiful held an event called Chipping of the Green to recycle used Christmas trees into mulch. However, the program was stopped last year due to lack of participation.
City landscape specialist Lewis Bausell said that as many as 20,000 trees were mulched as part of the program in 1998. By 2007, that number had fallen to just over 3,000 trees.
The decline in use of real trees in favor of artificial versions was cited as a reason why Chipping of the Green was canceled last year.
“There just wasn’t enough participation,” Bausell said.
At the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association, Gragg said her organization has faced an uphill battle trying to spread the message that real trees are environmentally friendly.
“There are a lot of environmental benefits from the real tree, and I can’t name you one for the artificial tree,” Gragg said.
She cited warnings from consumer product agencies saying some artificial trees manufactured overseas have been shown to contain unsafe levels of contaminants, including lead.
And most artificial trees are produced in China, Korea and Taiwan, which adds to the U.S. trade deficit.
Gragg said the culprit is convenience of the artificial tree.
“The real problem is — everybody wants the quickest, easiest, fastest way today,” she said.
Still, Gragg said the real Christmas tree continues to be the choice of many people. She recently attended a Christmas show in Charlotte, N.C., where she heard lots of support and enthusiasm for farm-grown trees.
“They see it as a family tradition, a family outing. Many of the comments were — ‘We may not have as much under the tree this year, but we will have a tree, and we will have our holiday tradition.’ And that is very encouraging to us,” Gragg said.