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Oh Plastic Tannenbaum

>> Monday, November 30, 2009

'Tis the season when we drag out boxes of Christmas ornaments from the attic and decorate the house.

When I was a kid we always waited until right before Christmas to decorate, but I've begun pulling out ornaments and lights earlier.  Partly we decorate early because our whole neighborhood decorates the weekend after Thanksgiving and if I don't join them I start getting stressed out about the decorations being one more thing on my to-do list.  Partly it's because I dearly love the Christmas decorations and like to be able to enjoy them through the whole month of December.

And partly it's because last year, the weekend after Thanksgiving was spectacularly warm and we sat on our porch enjoying the weather and watching our neighbors decorate.  We then decorated ourselves the following weekend in bitter cold, howling winds and driving sleet, and thereby belatedly realized our neighbors just might be on to something with their whole early decorating thing.

Anywho, in the unseasonably warm day on Sunday, we spent the morning chipping away at our never shrinking wood pile, and in the afternoon we joined the neighborhood in decorating.

One of the things that gives me pangs every December is our tree.  It's fake.  It's plastic and metal, came in a cardboard box, and bears warnings about being made out of chemicals known in the State of California to cause cancer.  We bought the current tree last year because it was our first year in a real house that could fit a big tree.  So we went to a variety of stores and found a full-sized cancer-causing environment-destroying artificial tree to replace our miniature cancer-causing environment-destroying artificial tree.

As I put the thing up yesterday, I contemplated the sticky film that developed on my finger tips, and wondered just what on earth it could be.  I contemplated the nasty chemicals that went into making the plastic of the needles and the green coating on the metal.  I contemplated the petroleum wasted both in making the tree and transporting it here from China.  I even contemplated the human rights and labor issues that might be involved in purchasing another product made in China.

I also contemplated the carbon dioxide that would have been used by a real tree as it grew to Christmas tree height, and the oxygen it would have given off.  And, I contemplated the lack of petroleum involved in getting a live tree from the Christmas tree farm that's right in my own little village.

So with all this anxiety, why did I purchased an artificial tree?  We had real trees every year as a kid, and finding and cutting them was a family affair.  I love the smell of real trees, and, well, the realness of them.

It comes down to this:  I just can't bear to kill a poor little tree.  I know, I know - at the Christmas tree farm that's what they were planted for.  But trees have been my friends for as long as I can remember.  I spent most of my childhood climbing and playing and just being in the maple tree in front of our house.  I talk to trees.  In the grand environmental scheme of things, buying a tree made of plastic probably killed off more living things than cutting a tree would.  I get it all, intellectually.  But when it comes to Christmas trees, my sentiment trumps my intellect.  I just cannot meet a sweet little tree and then chop it down.  It doesn't seem fair.

So, I put together my pre-lit plastic tree year after year, and don't have to wrestle with untangling lights.  I arrange the conveniently bendable branches to suit the ornaments.  I then scrub that yucky weird film off my fingers and hope it didn't soak into my skin too much, and then try not to think about what it's probably doing to the indoor air quality.

After it's up, I then sit and enjoy basking in its lovely, decorated, non-dying artificial tree glow.


b. November 30, 2009 at 1:19 PM  

It's funny that you mention this. Even though I'm not what one could describe as a nature lover (I love nature - in THEORY, but prefer not to experience most of its aspects), I have a soft spot in my heart for trees. When we cut our very first real! live! tree (after buying pre-cut trees), I actually cried, equating the tantalizing pine smell as tree blood. Yes, I am that demented. Still doesn't stop us from cutting our own (or buying pre-cut), but I do get a little veklempt.

Ellen Rathbone November 30, 2009 at 3:23 PM  

These are all the reasons I don't do a tree any more. Actually, since I struck out on my own I've never had a tree. Instead, decorations go on the house plants.

And what is it with those "contains compounds known to cause cancer in California" labels? I saw one on a lamp in Lowes this fall. Do these compounds not cause cancer anywhere but in California? Just what are these alleged compounds? Are they the plastics? Are they giving off fumes, or do you have to consume them? It's all a bit squirrely, if you ask me.

Woodswoman Extraordinaire: November 30, 2009 at 3:46 PM  

I'm so glad I'm not tne only one to feel bad about cutting down trees. Ellen, I admire your ability to just do without the tree. I do so love having one up, and all the ornaments. And what would our cat Wednesday do this time of year if she didn't have a tree to climb?

Sorry - the environmental lawyer in me can't help answering the "known in the State of California to cause cancer" (or birth defects, etc.) question. Those words are because of good old Proposition 65. Passed in California in 1986, it was intended to provide notice to citizens about potentially harmful chemicals in products.

The governor publishes the list of chemicals annually, and I think it's got something like 760 chemicals on it now. The companies do not have to specify which chemical - just that a chemical that's on the list used in making their product.

The list includes so many things that the warning is not terribly helpful. It includes lots of things that should be on the list (e.g. BTEX, radionuclides, hexavalent chromium), but some random ones, too. Things like alcoholic beverages, a variety of food dyes and "oral contraceptives" are on there, too. For more info on it try

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