Every holiday season, there is a growing debate on whether artificial or real Christmas trees are, in the end, better for the environment. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of Christmas tree, but in the end one type of tree is better for the environment.
For a growing number of families, the artificial tree is hands-down the better option. The thought of cutting down a brand new tree each year seems somewhat harsh to many families. The biggest advantage of buying an artificial tree is its convenience. Families will only need to buy an artificial tree once and it will last them nearly a decade. Their convenience is also appealing to families because they don’t need watering, they don’t leave pine needles all over the floor and transportation from tree farm to home isn’t an issue. But when considering the life-cycle, artificial Christmas trees are not as environmentally friendly as they appear. According the Earth911.com, today’s artificial trees are typically manufactured with metal and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a non-biodegradable, petroleum-derived plastic. Also, many older artificial Christmas trees may contain lead, used as a stabilizer in the manufacturing process. Along with their PVC contents, artificial trees are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable, meaning they will sit in a landfill for centuries after disposal. Finally, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), nearly 85% of artificial trees sold in the U.S. are imported from China, adding to their overall emissions.
As for real Christmas trees, one of my favorite characteristics is the smell. I, along with many U.S. families love the fresh smell of a real Christmas tree inside our home, instead of the smell of cheap plastic. But other characteristics of real Christmas trees show that they are very environmentally friendly. According to the EPA, nearly 33 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. each year and about 93% of those trees are recycled through more than 4,000 available recycling programs. Christmas trees are recycled into mulch and used in landscaping and gardening or chipped and used for playground material, hiking trails, paths and walkways. They can be used for beachfront erosion prevention, lake and river shoreline stabilization and fish and wildlife habitat. According to the EPA, a single farmed tree absorbs more than 1 ton of CO2 throughout its lifetime. With more than 350 million real Christmas tress growing in U.S. tree farms alone, you can imagine the yearly amount of carbon capturing associated with these trees. In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of real Christmas trees is that this growing industry employs more than 100,000 Americans full-time. Although real Christmas trees seem completely environmentally friendly, they are farmed as agricultural products, meaning repeated applications of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers may be used throughout their lifetime.
So which tree is better, when considering the environment and economy? Believe it or not, real Christmas trees are in fact the better buy. Although cleaning up needles is not appealing, the advantages of real Christmas trees outweigh those of artificial trees. Real Christmas trees are grown and sold in the U.S, making them a U.S.-based product. Unlike artificial Christmas trees, real Christmas trees are carbon-neutral, and their nutrients can be returned to the soil through recycling.