Do you prefer a real Christmas tree or an artificial one? If it doesn't feel like Christmas to you without the scent of a real one you're not alone.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that about 33 million real Christmas trees are sold each year. About 93 percent of those are recycled through more than 4000 tree-recycling programs throughout the United States.
Keeping it real
Advocates of using real Christmas trees, including Earth911, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the environment, point out that most trees sold at seasonal Christmas-tree lots are grown on farms, so forests aren’t being damaged when you purchase them.
"Real trees top our charts for holiday adornment," writes Earth911's Lori Brown. "Even though they might shed needles on your floor, the investment in a U.S.-based product, the carbon-neutral nature of their production and their ease of recycling make them a clear winner."
According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, it is illegal for Missouri landfills to accept Christmas trees, so if you do choose a real tree, you'll need to recycle it after the holidays.
Rather than taking up space in a landfill, recycled trees are ground into woodchips, which can be used to mulch gardens or parks—or they may be used to prevent erosion at a local watershed.
Where to recycle Christmas trees
- Three St. Louis city parks accept trees two weeks after the holiday, including Carondelet, O’Fallon and Forest Park (in the lower Muny parking lot).
- St. Peters: trees can be recycled at , and Earth Centre. Locations are open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday through Jan. 18.
- O’Fallon: trees can be recycled at and O’Fallon Sports Park. Locations are open during daylight hours through Jan. 18.
- Lake Saint Louis: trees can be recycled at , which will be open during daylight hours through Jan. 18.
- Wentzville: trees can be recycled at , which will be open from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. through Jan. 18.
- St. Charles County: trees can be recycled at . The park hours are from 7 a.m. until 30 minutes after sunset through Jan. 22. Trees must be in a plastic bag or other covering.
- The City of Hazelwood is partnering with Allied Waste for the 2011 Holiday Tree Pick-Up Program. Residents can place their trees curbside on their regular recycling day in the first two weeks of January for free pick-up.
- Creve Coeur residents can also leave their trees to be picked up for recycling by Allied Waste on their regular recycling days. Christmas trees must have a yard waste sticker to be collected.
- Maryland Heights-based will recycle trees for $1. Check out the FAQ on the St. Louis Compost website for details.
- The City of Ladue will pick up Christmas trees left at residents’ curbs for the entire month of January.
- The City of Florissant will recycle old holiday lights at its general recycling center near . The city will also pick up Christmas trees curbside starting the week after Christmas, according to the city’s Parks & Recreation department.
Alternatives to the real thing
- Artificial trees are often criticized for the significant energy and petroleum-based materials they consume during manufacturing, but a one-time purchase of an artificial tree can help to save resources that would be used to make the yearly trip to the local tree farm. However, the Children's Health Environmental Coalition reports that many artificial trees contain PVC, the manufacturing of which is responsible for releasing deadly chemicals into the environment. And, the National Christmas Tree Association reports that most artificial trees are made in unsafe environments in China by underpaid workers.
- While potted trees may seem like the greenest option, they don’t always fare well in warm homes and may not survive the season. Check out these tree-care tips from a worldwide coalition of farmers.
- The St. Louis County Department of Health suggests that residents consider buying a Norfolk pine, fig tree or other indoor plant that you can decorate each year.
- The University of Missouri suggests reblooming holiday cacti as an alternative to a traditional tree.