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The Most Important Christmas Tree Question: Real or Artificial?

Published by Cathie Denunzio

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The holiday season is upon us again. The turkey has been cooked, eaten, and the leftovers used as cleverly as possible. The Thanksgiving football games are over and most of the hunters have bagged their quota of deer. That means it is time for the most important choice of the year. Which type of Christmas tree will you use; real or artificial?

Environmental Impacts of Real versus Artificial Christmas Trees

Which type of tree has less of a negative impact on the environment? The question is asked this way because most consumers already consider both to have their negative impacts on the environment. Artificial trees are not natural. They are made of man-made materials that don’t decay when disposed. They often give off lead or other chemicals when moved around. Real trees are killed in order to be used. They are cut down and taken from the environment. They are often difficult to maintain in the house and even harder to get rid of after the holiday season.

Do all these negatives make the Christmas tree debate a question of the lesser of two evils? Not really. Read on to find out why. One type of tree is actually not as bad as many have come to think it is. In fact, it is actually quite good from just about every perspective but a select few.


Artificial Christmas Tree Pros

Artificial trees have several aspects that stand them squarely in the corner of many consumer living rooms when it comes to tree choice at Christmas. They are re-usable and represent a onetime cost that can be spread over several years of use. This makes them a favorable choice based on economics alone for many consumers. Artificial trees are not ugly anymore either, and they offer many options in terms of color and style that make them a good flexible choice for trimming when the time comes. And the icing on the cake, or icicle on the tree rather, is that using artificial trees also prevents the cutting of live trees year after year.

Artificial Christmas Tree Cons

Artificial trees are made out of polyvinylchloride (PVC), lead and other additives that give the fake needles their plastic characteristics. PVC is a petroleum based product. The process of making it gives off pollutants such as ethylene dichloride and dioxins, both of which are considered to be carcinogenic. And look closely because some artificial trees actually come with warning labels due to the amount of lead in them. A large percentage of artificial trees come from China, which means no jobs or local businesses are provided for in the process of making them. Artificial trees are not exactly good from a disposal standpoint either because they aren’t biodegradable. They won’t ever decompose or break down and will remain in the land fill.

Real Christmas Tree Pros

Some of the things that are good about real trees are pretty subjective. No need in trying to be less than open about that. What is great to some is very negative to others. Those that like real trees enjoy everything from the experience of harvesting them to how they look and smell. Many families have a generations old tradition of trekking through the nearest tree farm looking for the perfect tree to fit their space. These yearly adventures usually come with large quantities of hot cocoa, caroling, and high-quality family time.

Other considerations are not as subjective and can be backed up with a little analysis. The bulk of real Christmas trees that are used come from Christmas tree farms. This means they are renewable. Real trees are replaced every year in order to keep the supply consistent. The exceptions would be some of the most well known trees, such as those that get sent to Rockefeller Square every year. Real trees also perform their natural function of absorbing carbon dioxide as they grow. They grow on land that most crops won’t and they provide great mulch if recycled after the holiday season. Most trees are grown locally so transportation impacts are fairly low as well. This also means local businesses are supported rather than foreign manufacturers.

Real Christmas Tree Cons

Since real trees are usually harvested at the 9-12 year old stage, there are maintenance requirements associated with their growth. Most tree farms use herbicides and pesticides to protect their trees and speed their growth. And, of course, watering is required. There are also the harvesting requirements which usually involve gas-powered saws or tree snipping devices as well as transportation requirements to get them to market. Additionally, real trees represent fire hazards when not properly cared for and they require constant watering while in use in your home.

Real Trees versus Fake, Which One Then?

One common question that comes up in this debate is whether or not the lifespan of an artificial tree, which is usually between 5 and 15 years, outweighs the negative environmental impacts they represent, especially when compared with the year after year practice of cutting down a real tree.

Yes, artificial trees do last a long time in most cases. However, they are not biodegradable, they don’t sustain local businesses, and they pollute the environment when being made or disposed of. Real trees, on the other hand, are renewable, recyclable and grown locally by small businesses.

While there are still positives about either type of Christmas tree, it appears that the most environmentally responsible option is actually the real tree. So, find a local tree farm, find the tree that best fits your space, and have a wonderful time decorating it in your home or apartment. Decorating the tree is stuff family traditions are made of so go all out and make the event special.

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