Should You Buy a Real or Fake Christmas Tree?

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

Fake trees Short life

The simple fact is that both kind of trees are eventually thrown away. The real one immediately, the fake one a few years down the road. However, the fake tree is still in the dump for decades releasing toxins as it breaks down. Fake trees have a longer "life" up-front, being used for a few years, if lucky. But, all foreign cheaply made plastic products do NOT last long enough to pass down to your children. Current products are made with a short life on purpose, it's called planned obsolescence, to encourage consumerism. Fake trees break and become useless to pass along.

Real trees rot and return to nature. They do not take up more water than barren ground without a tree. The root system actually prevents water run-off and soil erosion. The oxygen they give off is important to the environment. Modern Christmas trees are farmed, not taken from old forests. A huge percentage of waste removal companies, shred the trees from trash pickup and use as mulch for local public works.

Both real and fake trees can be a fire hazard. But a fake tree when burning, releases dioxin which makes a house fire even more dangerous. I have used both real and fake. I didn't consider the environment when making my choice. It was about money available at the time and about convenience. Which is sadly how most choices are made. But science shows the real tree is a much better choice for long-term effect.

So use your fake tree, and don't feel guilty about it... until it's time to throw it away.

Artificial vs Real

I vote for LIVE trees that may be transplanted and continue to benefit the Earth.

Artificial Trees

I couldn't disagree more with this assessment! The issue is not global warming but all of the resources, especially water, needed to grow trees that will be discarded in a few short weeks. Artificial trees do not have to end up in landfills They may be handed down to children, or given away to Goodwill or Freecycle for others to utilize for decades.

Artificial Trees

I couldn't disagree more with this assessment! The issue is not global warming but all of the resources, especially water, needed to grow trees that will be discarded in a few short weeks. Artificial trees do not have to end up in landfills They may be handed down to children, or given away to Goodwill or Freecycle for others to utilize for decades.

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