Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Thanks to Plastics, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens & GPTMC

Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. Part of this enjoyment stems from the fact that I have two sons, ages two and five, who are in their prime “magic of Christmas” years.  They love the decorations, the carols and the anticipation of presents. Although we are certainly trying to teach our children not to be too materialistic, there is one material that is essential for our holiday season. From the garlands, wreathes and lights that adorn the windows and porch, to the resin decorations perched on sideboards and dressers throughout the house, it is hard to imagine celebrating the holidays without plastics.

Chief among the decorations, of course, is the much revered Christmas tree. According to a list of “Christmas Tree Facts” posted by the University of Illinois Extension, 48 percent of U.S. households decorated their houses in 2002 with a plastic Christmas tree, with 21 percent choosing a real tree and 32 percent choosing no tree. The vast majority of artificial Christmas trees on the market today are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), PE (polyethylene), or a combination of the two. Up until very recently, most trees were made exclusively from PVC. The needles on traditional pre lit artificial Christmas trees are cut out of compressed sheets of PVC (typically recycled), whereas the branches and needles of PE artificial Christmas trees are made by filling a mold made from a real tree.

A carbon footprint study recently issued by the American Christmas Tree Association (yes, there truly is a trade association for everything!) submits that artificial plastic trees are the more environmentally friendly choice over the long-term. In the interests of full disclosure, however, the National Christmas Tree Association argues to the contrary. This debate aside, if, like me, you selected a real tree this year, you may well be relying on a high-impact polypropylene Christmas tree stand to keep your evergreen upright throughout the season. Indeed, from the durable polyethylene “Santas Secret Boots®” watering device that we use to water our tree, to the plastic train and track that encircles the tree, right up to the plastic underskirt on our tree’s angel, plastics, as in our broader lives, plays an essential function.

Plastics role in the holidays does not stop at the decorations. The 2008 Deloitte Holiday Survey reports that for the fifth consecutive year, gift cards (made most likely from PVC) were the top gift choice. Specifically, 66 percent of households planned to purchase an average of 5.3 gift cards in 2008.

And of course, my kids are not alone in hoping for toys from Santa, many of which will be made from plastics. So as you celebrate the holiday season and enjoy its visual and material delights, remember this line from Sam Wainwright in the holiday movie classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” – “plastics, baby, plastics!”

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