December 13, 2011

Real trees have lower carbon impact than fake

Better for planet than artificials, area experts say


WEST CHAZY — Despite dropping temperatures and ice-nipped wind, live Christmas trees are still worth the trouble for many North Country residents.

For those dreaming of a "green" Christmas, the decision to buy a real tree is an easy one to make.


"We have families that have been coming here for 23 years," said Dave Goslin, who owns D&D Tree Farm in West Chazy with his wife, Deb.

Goslin, whose tree-farming career began 30 years ago when he planted his first trees, now has 20 acres of evergreens available for people to browse. He said that this year, more people have been braving the cold than ever before, looking for the perfect centerpiece to their holiday festivities.

"Last year, I tried selling pre-cut trees, but it didn't really work," Goslin said. "I think people want the experience of cutting their own tree."


After perusing the sloped expanse of the D&D Tree Farm, Adam Mintz and his 4-year-old son, David, finally settled on a stately balsam fir. Bandsaw in hand, Mintz dragged the tree from its plot toward the parking lot with the help of his son, whose little hands weren't quite big enough to stretch around the tree's freshly severed trunk.

"To me, the smell of a real tree says Christmas," Mintz said. "It's fun to come out here with the family. We make an afternoon out of it."


The 6-foot-tall tree Mintz and his son selected was planted about 10 years ago. Goslin purchases the trees when they are 5 years old, plants them and prunes them until they are tall enough to be cut.

"Each tree needs a haircut every year," Goslin said. "It helps them keep a nice shape."

The shape Goslin referred to is the symmetrical cone shape emulated in most store-bought specimens. Since aesthetics aren't necessarily a living tree's primary concern when growing, a little maintenance is required to keep their limbs in check.

When one of Goslin's shapely trees is taken, he plants two new trees nearby, one on each side of the stump.

Throughout the years, their biggest sellers have consistently been blue spruce, white spruce and balsam fir.


People needn't feel guilty about chopping down a live tree and discarding it a few weeks later. It is actually the more environmentally friendly choice.

Gail Brill, founding director of Green Circle, a Saranac Lake-based group dedicated to educating community members on choosing a sustainable lifestyle, enthusiastically agrees that balsam fir is an ideal choice for holiday decorum.

"That first smell of evergreen conjures up memories of past Christmases and a connection to my ancestors," she said. "My ancestors would roll over in their graves if I bought a fake tree."

According to Brill, since trees are a natural resource, obtaining one from a local grower is not only a sustainable choice; it also helps support local business.

"Plastic trees are made from petroleum and lots of other chemicals. There are also a lot of carbon miles attached to a fake tree that's produced overseas, and they don't degrade well in a landfill."


City of Plattsburgh Public Works Superintendent Mike Brodi agreed that fake Christmas trees linger a long time once tossed to the curb but also noted that people who buy the plastic pines use them for many years.

"The metal and plastic that's used to make the (fake) trees can be in a landfill forever," Brodi said.

"We try to separate the plastic from the metal to recycle as much of it as we can (once trees are discarded)."

The city begins its Christmas-tree cleanup shortly after New Year's Day and continues picking up them up for the following two weeks.

The real trees are brought to a site on Rugar Street in Plattsburgh, where they are reduced to woodchips.

"As of right now, we don't have a compost plan," said Brodi. "Most of the time, the chips just sit there, but, with permission, people can come and take them."

They can be used for landscaping and decoration.


Brill, who makes a trade with a nearby friend every year — some of her homemade coconut macaroons for a Christmas tree off his property — says using a real tree transcends the need for festivities and decoration. She said it helps connect her to nature and makes the winter a little cheerier.

"For me, it's a way to honor the tree," Brill said. "A sacred green lasts through the gray of winter."