So last weekend when picking up our Christmas tree the thought crossed my mind of which had a greater environmental impact: real or artificial trees. I wasn’t sure where to begin answering this question because so many different factors popped into my mind so I started by simply googling “the environmental impact of real vs fake trees.” And I came across the following two articles among many others.
The first argues that so many factors must be considered that they are equal in the magnitude of their effects on the environment.
The second actually concluded that artificial trees were the way to go.
As in anything we have to be critical of what information they have chosen to include and exclude from their comparison but here are a few things to consider, whichever your family decides on.
Real trees typically have a life span of one year. They are farmed specifically to be harvested and used for the holiday season and then are disposed of. How they are disposed of is an important factor in deciding their impact; trees can be composted or recycled. Another impact of real trees is the water and pesticide use during the production of them, impacts that aren’t considered for fake trees. The final consideration is how far you are driving to pick up your tree, whether you are going to cut it down at a farm yourself or purchase one that has already been shipped to a major retailer.
Artificial trees are often kept for up to 10 years, of course the longer they are used, fewer trees need to be manufactured and therefore a lessened environmental impact per year of use. Transportation is also considered an impact with artifical trees however there is no additional yearly transportation needed once they reach the home. Disposal is a common concern because artifical trees are made using plastics and the materials are not as easily broken down and the trees may sit in landfills for many years.
So then which do I choose?
As previously mentioned the point is that neither an artifical or real tree is better than the other in all cases. The environmental impacts of a tree will depend on the length of its use, the fossil fuels, water or pesticides that are involved in farming and transportation of the tree as well as the disposal methods. Even though it is interesting to think about all of these different impacts having a tree will not make or break your carbon footprint. In comparision to many of our other daily activities the impact of Christmas trees is quite small. As with many of the other decisions we make daily to lessen our environmental impact, the choice will really depend on your own unique situation. So whether you choose to have a tree or not, whether you will be celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the New Year ahead or the ending of exams hope you have a wonderful holiday season full of good food, friends and family.