Environmental officials and activists want Indiana residents to go green this Christmas.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is urging Hoosiers to help farmers, the environment and the economy by buying Indiana-grown Christmas trees this year instead of artificial ones.
Indiana tree farms grow a wide variety of trees, though some — such as the popular Fraser fir — don't grow well in the state. Most of those trees are brought in from places like Michigan or North Carolina, where soil conditions and temperatures are more conducive to their growth.
That shouldn't prevent people from checking out real trees instead of artificial ones, IDEM spokesman Dan Goldblatt said.
"Unlike artificial trees, which are usually made of petroleum-based products and smell the same way a plastic shoe horn smells, a real Christmas tree can fill your home with fresh air and can be recycled," Goldblatt told The Star Pressof Muncie. "Even after you cut the tree down and put it in your house, it continues to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as long as it has a fresh water supply to keep it alive."
The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups share his view, saying artificial trees, typically made in China of metal and polyvinyl chloride, aren't biodegradable, contain lead, and often wind up in landfills after six to nine years.
Real trees can be recycled into mulch or used as habitats for wildlife during the winter.
"A lot of people, when they're done with their tree, they put them outdoors on their property," said Bob Beavers of Branch Ranch, a Christmas tree farm in Yorktown. "They're a great home for birds to have a warm place to live in the winter."
Artificial trees are popular because they don't drop needles on the floor or leave sap on people's hands. They also appeal to people worried about how cutting down trees affects the environment.
The Indiana Christmas Tree Growers Association says deforestation isn't a concern because the trees are grown as crops by farmers. One to three new seedlings are planted for every tree that is harvested, the association says.
Beavers said that in cases of fire, real trees can even be safer than their fake counterparts because they hold moisture.
"It's kind of the opposite of what you would think," he said. "Because of the moisture, it's difficult to get a real tree to burn. More damage is caused by an artificial tree fire because of the petroleum. A plastic tree fire is much more of an intense fire, and the fumes are hazardous."
People still on the fence can heed the Sierra Club's advice and avoid a Christmas tree altogether. House plants, an outdoor tree or even a wooden tree made of recycled material can serve as green alternatives.