Dear Proper Green,
I want to replace my old fake Christmas tree. Should I buy another fake one or go for a real one?
-Catherine P., Philadelphia, PA
For many families, choosing a fresh Christmas tree from a farm or tree lot is a long-standing annual tradition. But in the past decade, more and more folks have begun opting for plastic pines over fresh trees.
In 2012, nearly 11 million fake trees were sold compared to 24.5 million fresh trees, but 83% of households put up a fake tree (likely one they purchased a previous year). What is the environmental impact of all that manufactured greenery? Should the eco-conscious among us be celebrating the rise of artificial trees? Not necessarily.
In some ways, it might seem like artificial trees would be better for the environment. Last year alone over 24 million real trees were felled, which calls to mind the destructive deforestation that happens in the U.S. and abroad. The loss of so many trees in one year sounds grave; however, evergreen trees are a renewable resource. Because Christmas trees are planted with the express purpose of being cut down every year, on net aggregate our environment isn’t losing as many trees as you would imagine. Instead, private land is put aside yearly to grow 300 million trees that during their life cycle give back to our environment through oxygen production, carbon dioxide “capture”, and flora and fauna maintenance.
The manufacture and transportation of artificial trees pose environmental concerns of their own. Currently, the vast majority of artificial trees are produced with plastics and metals that are, especially taken all together, are difficult or impossible to recycle. Whenever a fake tree inevitably wears out, it often ends up in a landfill.
Conflicting studies declare both types of Christmas trees as the superior green evergreen. But what we know for sure is you can take steps to minimize the environmental impact once you’ve made your pick. Here are some smart actions to reduce impact:
- - Try to purchase those made in the U.S. rather than ones exported from China. Buying locally reduces the gas and energy used to transport the trees.
- - Unpack and store your tree with care to keep it looking nice, and use it for as many Christmases as you can.
- - If you’re disposing of a plastic tree, consider upcycling it into other holiday decorations. Or donate it to a community center, school, or thrift store.
- - Avoid driving long distances to get your tree. The pollution you produce on a fifty mile drive to get a real tree already makes it a far less environmentally friendly option.
- - Recycle your tree. Many municipalities pick up trees from your curbside or manage drop-off locations. You can also mulch it or add it to your own backyard compost. Remember to remove all decorations before you recycle, compost, or mulch.