Should You Buy a Real or Fake Christmas Tree?

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Should You Buy a Real or Fake Christmas Tree?

When it comes to the environment, choose your tree wisely.  

By Susan Cosier
Published: November-December 2012

Which are better: natural or artificial Christmas trees?

--Sally Weber, Arlington, VA

Decked with tinsel and ornaments, evergreens--farmed or fake--define holiday cheer. Experts say that the best choice is going natural. From a climate-change perspective, you'd have to keep your artificial tree for 20 years before it became a better alternative than the real deal.

"If you like live trees and want to build a tradition, they're a great choice and not environmentally harmful," says Clint Springer, a biologist at St. Joseph's University and a tree expert.

Americans will buy about 21.6 million real trees and 12.9 million artificial ones this holiday season, reports Nielsen Research in partnership with the American Christmas Tree Association, an artificial tree group. (Numbers from the natural tree group, the National Christmas Tree Association, show that consumers bought 28 million natural trees and 8.2 million artificial ones in 2010.)

Most of the artificial variety come from China, so shipping them burns fossil fuels, says Jean-Sebastien Trudel, founder of the Montreal-based consulting firm Ellipsos, which conducted a lifecycle analysis of natural and artificial trees. They're also made from polyvinyl chloride, which emits volatile organic compounds that can lead to respiratory irritations and distress.

This article originally ran as the Green Guru column in the November-December 2012 issue. 

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Susan Cosier

Susan Cosier is former senior editor at Audubon magazine. Follow her on Twitter @susancosier.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

Comments

Don't get a tree

Don't get a tree

real vs fake trees

Real sounds like a nice option until you realize that they are often "factory" farmed. In Oregon, famous for its Douglas Firs, they are using a modern day equivalent to Agent Orange to sterilize the forest of anything and everythng, and then planting the desired trees. So you have pesticides that hang around for a long time, normal eco systems destroyed so people can get their desired type of Christmas tree.

real vs fake trees

Real sounds like a nice option until you realize that they are often "factory" farmed. In Oregon, famous for its Douglas Firs, they are using a modern day equivalent to Agent Orange to sterilize the forest of anything and everythng, and then planting the desired trees. So you have pesticides that hang around for a long time, normal eco systems destroyed so people can get their desired type of Christmas tree.

Artificial Trees

I have an artificial tree that I bought more than 20 years ago and I think there is another 20 years left in it.
My concern with this article is that the experts have seemingly endorsed the idea of cutting down millions of live trees every year. The assertion that growing, cutting and mulching a tree has a smaller carbon footprint than purchasing a plastic tree (provided the plastic tree is discarded in less than 20 years) sounds a bit like saying it's better to drive an Escalade than a Hummer.
A live tree sounds like a much better option -- provided you plant the live tree in a place where it can grow to maturity. I live in Colorado and see dead Norfolk Pines discarded every year. They should only be sold here as a live tree option with a big tag saying it needs to be raised in a green house.

edge habitat

There are many species who rely on holes in the forest - plant, animal, bird and insect species - for whom the growing and careful harvesting of christmas trees is a great boost to their habitat. A christmas tree farm is not generally rows and rows of monoculture, it is part of the local ecosystem and provides shelter and food for many creatures who can depend that year after year, although the individual trees there change, this will still be good habitat!

Our artificial tree is from

Our artificial tree is from the 80's and still going strong. Yes, I will be giving it to my children. There is no reason an artificial tree should end up in a landfill unless the owner chooses that route. I have seen artificial trees offered through Freecycle and they are taken immediately, imperfect ones as well. Again, it is about the wasteful, inefficient use of precious water and soil resources, those things we cannot afford to squander, for a few weeks of enjoyment.

The city of Berkeley picks up

The city of Berkeley picks up the discarded trees at the curb. It is added to the greenwaste and made into compost . I too love that Douglas Fir smell!

Real Trees Smell Great

I live in an area where Christmas trees are grown. No tree grower uses irrigation to grow these trees; they are mostly grown on marginal abandoned farm fields, and Mother Nature provides the moisture. The variety grown is a native species (Balsam Fir) and well adapted to the habitat, though if global warming continues that may be different. Their cultivation adds income to an area of high unemployment.
And natural trees have a wonderful fragrance!

Living Trees

I would amend the article to say that real "living" trees are the the best, followed by real "dead" trees. I've been getting real "live" trees for 25 years and planting them every spring. Twenty have survived and continue to absorb CO2 while providing homes, food and shelter for many critters. Had these been harvested trees, they would now be releasing CO2 as they decompose. So living is really the best way to go.

Every year I build a tree for

Every year I build a tree for Christmas. Many years it has been a pile of upside-down tomato cages held together with bits of (recycled) wire, wrapped up with garland and lights and bedecked with ornaments that seem to float in mid-air. The year before last, a pile of scraps of recovered cypress stuck was into the same cages in the attitude of the trees they once were. Last year, a pile of cardboard boxes was wrapped with shrink wrap and lights in the classic Christmas tree shape. This year, atop the dog crate, a bit of shrubbery that gave up in an old neglected landscape was weighted into a 1/2 urn with rocks and hung with bits of costume jewelry. The possibilities are nearly endless! :-)

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