Are Real or Fake Christmas Trees Better for the Environment?
In the battle of Faux vs. Firs, learn more about which reigns supreme.
During Christmastime there are many debates. Chocolate-peppermint cheesecake or gingerbread baked Alaska for your heavenly holiday dessert? Eggnog or hot buttered rum? Is it okay to open a present or two Christmas Eve?
Some, have obvious answers (yes, open those presents!), and some are more nuanced, like whether or not real or fake Christmas trees are better for the environment. In a recent piece from the New York Times, titled "Real vs. Artificial Christmas Trees: Which Is the Greener Choice?" the article's author Karen Zraick does a deep dive on the topic of fake and real Christmas trees and the environment.
The answer is not black and white, or not firs and faux, as the case would have it. While many think that the mass chopping down of trees is bad for the environment, that doesn't always hold true. Zraick urges you to think of Christmas trees like a food crop (say, tomatoes) and note that trees aren't cut down from wild forests on a big scale for consumers, so you don't need to worry about that. When trees grow, they also offer perks to the environment like purifying the air, and when you're done with a Christmas tree, they're biodegradable, unlike their plastic counterparts.
WATCH: Our Favorite Christmas Trees
As for fake trees, the majority of these seasonal shrubs are made from PVC (a type of plastic) and steel in China and shipped to America — creating a large carbon footprint — before they wind up in a landfill. "While [these PVC and steel trees that end up in landfills] may not sound eco-friendly, [the American Christmas Tree Association], which represents manufacturers, claims the environmental impact is lower than that of a real tree if you use the artificial tree for five or more years," writes Zraick. "The group argues that getting a new, real tree each year — and possibly disposing of it in a landfill at the end of the season — has a bigger impact on greenhouse gas emissions, water and energy use, and other areas than a reused artificial tree does."
Perhaps the best bet? As the article posits, buy your tree locally and recycle it after the season ends. This way, you not only support your area's economy but also save on fuel costs that are used when shipping trees long-distance.
At the end of the day though, it's indeed true that your "tree is just a drop in the bucket in this season of air travel and consumerism," as stated in the piece. Shopping and air travel create a much larger negative environmental impact than the Christmas tree market. “If a consumer wants to celebrate the holidays in a truly environmental fashion, they need to look beyond just the Christmas tree,” Brad McAllister, a managing director of WAP Sustainability Consulting, told the New York Times.
We guess this is one debate that can't be settled as simply as eggnog's superiority to hot buttered rum. Oh wait, Aunt Suzanne doesn't agree. Okay, maybe all holiday quandaries are contentious.