English: Pine tree (Pinus strobus) needles in ...

English: Pine tree (Pinus strobus) needles in the winter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While we still have some time left to enjoy our Christmas trees, wreaths and garland, we do have to decide what we are going to do with these items after the holidays are over. Of course, one option is to sit your tree curbside to be picked up by your local trash collector. A glance at the pickup schedule will give you the dates for curbside pickup. Most localities will recycle these materials for mulch.

If you would like to start the year off right with a strong commitment to living green, there are other alternatives for your greenery. Today we will review a few of these ideas, and maybe you will find a suggestion you want to try.

  • Some Christmas trees can be recycled for medicinal purposes, such as pine sap used as an antibacterial to seal wounds. See website http://www.livestrong.com/article/256118-uses-of-pine-tar-ointment/. Along these same lines, pine needles can be used for medicinal teas, which are purportedly beneficial for antibacterial infections. This idea does come with a caveat. It is mandatory that you know what kind of tree you have. Many trees on the market today are fir, rather than pine. You do not want to consume fir needles ever.
  • Thickener. Pine cones can be ground up and used as a thickener like flour or corn starch. The inner bark of the pine tree is full of Vitamin C. Once again, you must know definitively that you have a pine tree.
  • Firewood and starter. Once the wood has dried out completely, it can be used for firewood. It is important to monitor the buildup of creosote in your chimney as these softer woods do cause a fast buildup. However, these products are great for outdoor use in bonfires or fire pits.
  • Fish covers and habitats. If you have a pond, sunken trees make a great fish cover. It is important that you check local regulations prior to sinking trees in lakes to create fishing spots.
  • Fertilizer. Ground pine trees can be used in your home compost pile. If you have alkaline soil, this much will lower the pH.
  • Potpourri. The needles from pine, spruce or fir trees can be combined with other scented plants, cloves, or orange peels and essential oils to creat great scents for the home that also can be used for gifts.

If you are not interested in taking on any of the above-mentioned projects, you still can discard your Christmas tree in a manner that is environmentally conscientious. The National Christmas Tree Association’s website contains very helpful information on conservation projects which use real Christmas trees. Some of these suggestions also make excellent projects for scouts and other community organizations. Please go to http://www.realchristmastrees.org/dnn/default.aspx for further information.

The Christmas holiday is a wonderful time to celebrate life, renewal and the environment. This gift-giving time presents a unique opportunity to give back to the earth. Your recycled trees are fully biodegradable and can be used in so many ways to live green, be green.

For good news Monday, we have tips for getting the best Christmas tree and keeping it fresh and healthy throughout the holiday season.

For beginnings, the best trees are live trees, not artificial ones, because the latter often are imported and contain toxic materials, such as lead.  If possible, try to purchase a tree from a local tree farm.  This will guarantee the freshness of your tree.  Also, buying local reduces transportation and shipping costs, along with reducing carbon emissions.  An excellent website to find local businesses for family farms and organic products is http://localharvest.org.

When purchasing a precut tree from a nursery or local group, such as the Scouts or churches, inquire about the freshness of the trees as well as the location

A Christmas tree farm in Iowa, United States.

A Christmas tree farm in Iowa, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

which they were shipped.  When inspecting trees for purchase, check the needles to ensure that they are flexible and not dry.

Once you have selected a tree, it is important that you get it home and in water as soon as possible.  Try to select a place for display that is out of direct sunlight and away from fans, heaters, or humidifiers in order to avoid drying out prematurely.  Decorate with inflammable, nontoxic ornaments  and LED lights, which burn much cooler than incandescent lights.  Once the holiday season is over, please check local community directories for programs that collect trees for mulch.

Let’s make getting a Christmas tree and decorating it a green family activity.  Have a Merry Green Christmas and live green, be green.

Nativity scene at Sacred Heart Catholic Church...

Nativity scene at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, in the historic Barelas neighborhood, Albuquerque, NM, Jan 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Black Friday is approaching fast, and with it comes the official start of the Christmas shopping season, which we hope will culminate into a great green Christmas.  Now is the perfect time to put into place a game plan to ensure that this hectic time of our lives can proceed as smoothly as possible.  Also, with some planning, we can have an enjoyable holiday without disrupting our commitment to live green.

A great place to begin with our holiday planning is in the selection of retailers to shop for holiday foods, gifts and decorations.  A good source to make this determination is Newsweek Green Rankings.  This website provides several listings, including the greenest retailers in America, the World’s greenest companies, as well as the least greenest companies.  Additionally, listings per industry, such as food and tech companies also are provided.  In reviewing these entries, the savvy green shopper can see how publically traded companies in the United States are globally rank “based on their actual environmental footprint, and sustainability communications“.  These rankings have been produced by Newsweek in collaboration with Trucost and Sustainability, two leading environmental organizations.  Making this list is not a matter of choice, and companies cannot opt out of inclusion.  These evaluations provide green-minded consumers an excellent resource to make informative decisions on businesses worthy of their dollars.

Perhaps the second largest area of importance to consumers during the holiday season is decorating.  Starting with Christmas trees, it is important to remember that there is nothing green about an artificial Christmas tree.  Even the color is not natural.  Generally, they have been imported from China, and they are made from petroleum-based chemicals and often contain lead.  Most importantly, they cannot be recycled.  On the other hand, a real Christmas tree provides a beautiful and fragrant decoration for the holiday season, and it can be recycled into mulch or purchased with a ball root that can be planted.  Imagine a grove of trees representing past Christmases celebrated by the family.  Another point to mention is that the purchase of live trees often can be made from local harvesters, thereby providing economic support to the community.

Tree lights and decorations also are important.  This year, please try to use LED lights.  They burn 10% of the energy of older incandescent bulbs, and they are safer because they run cooler in temperature.  LED lights can be used indoors and outdoors.  When purchasing other greenery, try to avoid plastic wreaths and garland because they contain harmful compounds.  Visit local nurseries and buy natural products that can be recycled.

When it is time to shop for gifts, try to break out of the box this year.  Support local holiday fairs and fair trade bazaars to purchase unique gifts while simultaneously supporting these artisans.  With the popularity of online shopping, please consider online gift cards and email Christmas cards.  These items reduce the need for paper and transportation for delivery, thus reducing the carbon footprint.

Christmas is a beautiful time to celebrate life and family.  It also is an excellent opportunity to recognize the beauty of our Earth and the need to preserve it for future generations.  To that end, let’s use this time to renew our commitment to live green, be green.