Great Lakes Funding & Christmas Tree Debate

  • Lauren and her potted tree. It will stay outdoors until Christmas Eve, when it will be brought in for 14 hours. (Photo by Jennifer Guerra)

People who are working on cleaning up the Great Lakes got some good news this week. After months of negotiations, the 2012 federal budget contains $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

That money will be used to clean up pollution, deal with invasive species and restore wildlife habitat. A lot of these projects are already underway.

Jeff Skelding is the campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. He says in a time when many budgets are getting slashed, funding for Great Lakes cleanup will remain steady.

“We have pretty much full support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Great Lakes Congressional delegation. I mean, they see the wisdom of infusing federal funding into the region, not only to clean up the Lakes which of course is very important, but the ancillary benefit we get from that is the economic benefits of investing these funds.”

The budget also includes more than $500 million to help Great Lakes states upgrade their aging sewer systems. When it rains, the sewers often get overloaded, and raw sewage can wash up on beaches.

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

There’s a long-running debate about which kind of Christmas tree is greener: real or artificial. We sent reporter Jennifer Guerra to find out:

Lauren Northrop and her husband Tom are big fans of Christmas.

“We love celebrating it, I love decorating, but we always have this dilemma: what do we do about a tree?”

They didn’t want a plastic tree because it’s, well, plastic. And they didn’t like the idea of bringing a live tree into their house, only to have it die and then drag it out to the curb to be recycled.

So they skipped the Christmas tree thing altogether for the last four years. But then, their son was born.

They bought a live, baby Christmas tree with its roots still intact. That way, when Christmas is done and the ground thaws, they can plant it in their backyard.

“I was planning to keep the tree inside until December 25th so that we could decorate it and put lights on it. When we went to buy it they said if you do that, it probably won’t survive.”

That’s probably way too much hassle for most people.

So a lot of people go for real, cut trees. Pat Fera would love to have a real cut Christmas tree in her house.

“But I’m very afraid of them. I had a friend of mine, this was back in the ‘60s, and she and her mother had gone to midnight mass and her father was home and he was sleeping on the couch and what woke him up was the sound of the tree just going wooosh.”

Apparently the TV shorted, it ignited the tree, tree caught on fire and the dad just made it out of the house.

SCHILDGEN: “Well yeah, if you’re not careful that’s certainly, yeah, a real tree is a hell of a fire hazard!”

That’s Bob Schildgen. He writes an environmental advice column for the Sierra Club called Hey, Mr. Green. So I called him up and asked him…

Guerra: “Hey, Mr. Green. Which is more environmentally friendly? Why don’t we tackle one at a time: let’s go with plastic trees. What do you think about those?”

Schildgen: “Well, I don’t think they’re environmentally friendly for a number of reasons. One is that they’re made out of materials that use petrochemicals and metals and so forth. They get eventually tossed in the landfill, they have a life of about 9 years and then they’re tossed. They can’t be recycled.”

And since most plastic Christmas trees are made in places like China, they have to be shipped a very long way to end up in your family room.

So plastic is out.

Schildgen does like the idea of live bulb trees, but their survival rate once you plant them in the ground isn’t that great. So he says – aside from the fire hazard mentioned – real cut trees are a much greener option than plastic. With a real tree you’re using a renewable resource; the trees are raised on tree farms, so you’re not contributing to any deforestation. And they’re completely recyclable.

“I think another feature that I like about them is that, and this is not exactly an obvious environmental issue, but I think it’s very good for children to see something fresh, green, real, alive, and then watch it cycle as the needles fall off and it goes into its natural demise. I think that’s good for people.”

Schildgen says some farmers use pesticides on their tree, so if you’re concerned about that, you should look for local organic trees.

For The Environment Report, I’m Jennifer Guerra.

And that’s the Environment Report. Happy holidays! I’m Rebecca Williams.