Each holiday season, shoppers must choose between a real or a fake Christmas tree. Based on environmental effects, a real tree, rather than an artificial one, is the way to go. According to an article on State Impact, an Energy and Environment Reporting site for Texas, “the difference in environmental impact between the two is negligible, with artificial trees having a slightly larger impact.”
Artificial trees contain polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which is a major source of dioxins. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), dioxins are “a group of toxic chemical compounds that share certain chemical structures and biological characteristics.” The EPA suggests that dioxins break down very slowly and that a high exposure to them may cause adverse physiological effects, including cancer.
While real trees are growing, they support natural processes by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Farms that grow Christmas trees are typically local, family farms that stabilize soil, protect water supplies, and provide refuge for wildlife.
Plus, real trees are renewable! They are grown on a farm like any other crop, and to ensure a constant supply, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, Christmas tree farmers plant one to three new seedlings for every tree they harvest. Real trees can also be recycled. According to the environmental website Earth911, since plastic trees do not biodegrade, “they will sit in a landfill for centuries after disposal.” The website also suggests that 93% of real trees actually do get recycled. The real trees that are recycled are used as mulch for gardens and lawns as well as playground material and pathways.
When debating whether to purchase a real or a fake tree, consider how far your tree traveled to get to you. Fake trees are often shipped from overseas; trees shipped from China have a huge carbon footprint. According to the New York Times, the annual carbon emissions associated with using a real tree is one-third of those created by an artificial tree over a six-year lifespan.
Also, think about what kind of lights you’re putting on the tree. The answer to this may have more of an environmental impact than the tree itself. Switching from incandescent to LED lights, which are said to have one-sixth the impact of traditional lights, is a simple way to lower your carbon footprint during the holiday season.
So, which tree wins the debate? According to a New York Times article, an environmental consulting firm in Montreal found that “an artificial tree would have to be reused for more than 20 years to be greener than buying a fresh-cut tree annually.” They drew this conclusion by comparing greenhouse gas emissions, use of resources, and human health impacts.
Overall, the environmental impact of a real Christmas tree is small and significantly less than that of an artificial tree. Even though they may shed needles on your floor and need to be watered daily, a real tree is the way to go this holiday season. The carbon-neutral nature of production, ease of recycling, and local proximity in growing make it the perfect addition to your family’s holiday traditions.