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Health & Balance

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How to Have a Green Christmas

Eco-friendly strategies for making the holidays healthier for you -- and the planet.

Fresh vs. Artificial Christmas Trees

Christmas trees pose a dilemma because fresh trees as well as artificial trees have their advantages and drawbacks.

An artificial tree will last for years, thereby avoiding annual trips to buy a fresh tree. Fresh trees may also carry mold and spores that can aggravate allergies. Connecticut researchers recently found that the mold count from a live Christmas tree rose to more than six times the original level after two weeks indoors. According to the authors, the study "demonstrates that mold-sensitive patients may experience allergic symptoms due to an increasing mold spore exposure from having a live Christmas tree in the home."

No live tree is hypoallergenic, and the Christmas decorations you put on them, especially heirlooms that have been used for many years, may be covered with dust, which also can irritate people with allergies.

On the other hand, Lilienfeld says, artificial trees are made with petroleum -- a nonrenewable resource -- and the manufacturing process often involves dioxins, a highly toxic, cancer-causing chemical that accumulates in the fatty tissues of humans and other animals.

They also lack the evergreen fragrance that signifies Christmas for many people. Buying a fresh tree may eliminate the need for scented candles, incense, and other overpowering fragrances that can bother people with allergies -- as well as those without. And because most Christmas trees are grown on farms, harvesting them does not disturb forests.

As for disposing of the trees, the National Christmas Tree Association and Earth 911 operate a web site that directs you to the nearest of nearly 4,000 locations nationwide that will accept your tree.

A Green Christmas Feast: Moderation Is Merrier

The choice between a fresh or a frozen turkey poses a similar dilemma. Fresh turkeys have no added hormones, but neither do frozen turkeys because the federal government prohibits administering growth hormones to poultry. Free-range turkeys may be raised without antibiotics, but the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service requires that all turkeys given antibiotics be kept alive long enough for the drugs to pass completely out of the bird's system.

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