Choosing a real Christmas tree over an artificial one may actually be better for the planet, according to a local environmental group.
Each year, ACAP Cape Breton issues its Twelve Days of Green Holidays, sharing daily social-media tips on how to have an environmentally friendly holiday season. Project co-ordinator Meaghan Fortune said their tip for Day 4 outlines some of the ecological, environmental and economic benefits of buying a real Christmas tree.
“Christmas trees are often grown in places that other crops wouldn’t grow, like under treelines or barren slopes,” explained Fortune. “And a lot of times when tree farmers cut down a tree, they replace those with two or three new trees so they’re really off-setting that.”
Many of the spruce and pine trees are also native species that don’t need extra water or fertilizers and during the 16 years they take to mature they’re storing carbon and producing oxygen. And in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality where trees are collected after the holidays (this year it’s Jan. 7-11 and Jan. 14-18), the trees have a second life.
“Once you’re finished with them, you put them out, the CBRM (Cape Breton Regional Municipality) collects them and they can be used for mulch or compost, so it’s all going back into the environment,” said Fortune. “When you throw out your fake tree, it’s just garbage.”
Economically, the Christmas tree industry in Canada is responsible for approximately $43 million in exports and employees thousands of people, she added.
“It creates a lot of jobs, too, for tree farmers.”
The ACAP Twelve Days of Green Holidays countdown ends on Dec. 24 and you can check out their Facebook page to see all of the tips.
Here’s a quick rundown.
Day 1: The first tip is all about conserving energy. ACAP suggests replacing incandescent lights with LED lights and using timers to conserve energy. People can also turn down temperature and settings on their hot water heater, buy energy-efficient appliances, and draft-proof and insulate their home.
“You can also get — we’ve got them here — solar-panelled lights, so instead of using electricity, you can just use solar panels,” said Fortune.
Day 2: ACAP’s second tip is to become active in your particular ecosystem by giving the gift of biodegradable treats for songbirds. There’s even a recipe for making seedcakes that you can hang on trees in your yard or favourite nature trail. All you have to do is mix three-quarters of a cup of flour, a half a cup of water, three tablespoons of molasses and four cups of birdseed. You press the mixture into cookies cutters, stopping halfway to insert a loop of biodegradable twine or old ribbon to hang. After they dry overnight, they’re ready to hang outside or give away as gifts.
“I’ve made them. They’re super easy,” said Fortune.
Day 3: The third tip is to go out get to know your local watershed. In the CBRM, most homes get their water from six lakes — Middle Lake, Pottle Lake, Kelly Lake, Kilkenny Lake, Waterford Lake and MacAskill Brook. People are also encouraged to take part in the annual bird count, which takes place Saturday, said Fortune.
“Were trying to get people to know where their water comes from and the forests and areas around that, so we suggest people go out snow-shoeing, or sledding, or just take a hike around their water source.”
Day 4: Real Christmas trees (see above)
Day 5: ACAP suggests giving green gifts for its fifth tip, beginning by buying local to reduce your carbon footprint while supporting entrepreneurs. Fortune said you can also give people gifts made from recycled material, hand-crafted items, or refurbished electronics to keep junk out of landfills.
“It’s about shopping local so you’re supporting your local community. Or, instead of buying new gifts altogether, you can give reused gifts or create gifts out of recycled materials, or just create homemade gifts or cards,” said Fortune, adding that the ACAP office on the Esplanade near the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion also has the Eco Shop where people can buy knit items, plant-based toothbrushes and environmentally friendly soaps and cleaners.
Day 6: Christmas is a time for giving, so ACAP recommends that people consider making a charitable gift.
“You can buy charitable cards,” said Fortune. “You can donate in someone’s name.”
Day 7: When you’re out shopping this year, ACAP recommends you bring a reusable bag to carry your gifts home. There are even instructions for making your own from an old T-shirt. All you have to do is cut the sleeves off, cut the neck out, then cut five-centimetre vertical slits along the bottom. Tie the ends together and you’re ready to shop.
“It’s not difficult at all,” said Fortune. “We did it here one day and it took five minutes and we made three or four.”
Day 8: Chances are you decorate your home during the holidays, so ACAP reminds you to repurpose, reclaim and reuse as much as possible. That can include making poinsettias from pumpkin seeds, painting pine cones, cutting CDs into seasonal shapes and using three bottle caps to make little snowmen.
Fortune said it’s really easy to transform toilet paper rolls into little Santa Claus figures — or bats, as ACAP did a few years back.
“You can use toilet paper rolls. You can paint them. Our example is we made them into little bats. We just used construction paper and pipe cleaners, and there’s a little bat.”
Day 9: Unfortunately, a lot of the gift wrap people use isn’t recyclable and ends up in landfills soon after you unwrap your presents. Fortune said one way to tell is to take the gift wrap and crunch it up.
“If it kind of unfolds once you let go it, it’s not recyclable, but if it stays crumpled up, it’s probably just paper,” she said, noting that if everyone in Canada wrapped three gifts in reused paper or gift bags, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 hockey rinks.
However, there are better alternatives to commercially produced wrapping paper, such as old maps, painting used jars, buying a basket from thrift shop and topping it with towels or fabric napkins.
“You can use comics, or you can use newspaper and paint designs on that, or you can wrap the gift in a gift using tea towels or scarves, or putting the gifts in hats or mittens. It’s like two in one.”
Day 10: Plenty of people like to check out the decorations around town at Christmas, but ACAP suggests people walk instead of drive.
“Everybody usually jumps in the car and drives around to look at the lights, but we suggest bundling up and going for walk around the neighbourhood to look at them,” said Fortune. “It saves on gas and air pollution. It’s also healthy for you to get some exercise, and it’s just a good way to make memories.”
Day 11: Food is a big part of the festive fun so ACAP reminds people that they should make their holiday feast with as much locally produced food as possible. On average, food travels more 2,400 kilometres to reach our plates, so buying locally is better. Fresh food also tastes better, is safer and supports local farmers who take care of their land.
“It reduces the amount that your food has to travel to get to you, so you’re cutting down on your carbon footprint,” said Fortune. “It’s also reducing the risk of contamination — the less it has to travel, the less stops it has to make. If you’re buying from the farmer up the street, it’s probably a lot fresher than something that travelled hundreds or thousands of kilometres to get to you.”
Day 12: As wonderful as Christmas can be, it also produces a lot of waste. For it’s final tip, which it will send on Christmas Eve, ACAP reminds people to ask themselves where all their garbage will end up. Things like artificial trees and wreaths, tinsel, garland, gift wrap, ribbons and bows, glittery cards, food wrap and Styrofoam are destined for the landfill. Cardboard boxes, some cards, plastic packaging, paper bags, bottles and jars should be recycled, and all of your food and trees can go back to the earth.
“We’ve got three categories — regular garbage, recyclable and compostable,” said Fortune. “Regular garbage would be gift wrap, Styrofoam, artificial trees, ribbons and bows. Recyclable would cardboard boxes. Some cards are recyclable and so are plastic packaging and bottles and jars. Compostables are your holiday food and then your real trees.”