For those who celebrate Christmas but want to do so in a truly eco-friendly fashion, it’s an age-old question: Are artificial trees or real trees better for the environment? The answer is more nuanced than it seems.
BOTH SIDES WEIGH IN
According to a recent poll from the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA), while 78% of consumers expressed concern about inflation, 94% of those surveyed plan to display at least one Christmas tree in their homes this holiday season. Of those consumers displaying at least one Christmas tree, nearly 77% will choose to decorate with an artificial tree, while just 23% will display a live Christmas tree this year.
According to the poll, 65% of consumers listed easy set-up and take-down, as well as consistent appearance, as reasons for displaying an artificial tree, while 49% listed easy maintenance as a primary rationale.
“Fifty-six percent of artificial Christmas tree owners also feel there are long-term cost savings when owning an artificial Christmas tree,” cites the ACTA.
Puleo International is a fourth-generation family-owned manufacturer and distributor of hand-crafted artificial Christmas trees and home décor. Lewis Puleo, vice president, believes there are many reasons to choose an artificial tree for holiday décor: Some are considered safer than real trees due to their flame-retardant properties; they produce less mess because they don’t shed needles; they are often more affordable because they don’t need to be repurchased each year; they’re non-allergenic; and they require no maintenance. When it comes to the sustainability aspect, Puleo says, “No need to cut down a real tree each year. An artificial Christmas tree can last for 10 to 15 years, which equates to 10 to 15 real trees that remain alive.”
“When used for at least five to 10 years, artificial trees have less negative global impact than natural trees,” Puleo adds.
On the flip side, many experts advocate for the usage of real Christmas trees.
According to The Nature Conservancy (TNC), “In the U.S., around 10 million artificial trees are purchased each season. Nearly 90% of them are shipped across the world from China, resulting in an increase of carbon emissions and resources. And because of the material they are made of, most artificial trees are not recyclable and end up in local landfills.”
“Real trees help fight climate change, and even though your Christmas tree is cut down, you’re actually supporting forests,” said the nonprofit organization.
Cristina Solis, a sustainability consultant for Green Hive, an online platform that “empowers consumers to make informed sustainability choices,” believes that choosing a real Christmas tree is more sustainable than purchasing a fake tree.
“Choosing a real Christmas tree supports the use of a natural and renewable resource. These trees are biodegradable, meaning they can be easily composted after use. Moreover, Christmas tree farms often grow more trees than they cut down, helping maintain green spaces and wildlife habitats,” Solis explains. “The process of growing Christmas trees can also sequester carbon dioxide, fighting climate change. Purchasing a real tree can contribute to the local economy by supporting small-scale tree farmers. However, it’s essential to consider the potential transportation-related carbon emissions if trees are transported over long distances.”
“Opting for a fake Christmas tree offers sustainability benefits in terms of longevity,” Solis continues. “These trees can be used for many years, decreasing the waste generated over time. However, the manufacturing of fake trees involves the use of non-renewable materials and energy, contributing to pollution and resource consumption.”
GREEN TIPS FOR WHATEVER TREE YOU CHOOSE
While Puleo and Solis are on opposite ends of the debate, they both acknowledge that it’s a nuanced topic given that the holidays involve many factors like family and cultural traditions. While it’s a matter of personal preference, both have tips for making it the greenest holiday possible.
“For those who are adamant about decorating with a real Christmas tree, it’s best if you can rent a real Christmas tree from a company that will pick up the tree when you are finished with it and possibly replant or reuse it,” Puleo advises. “Or find a company that properly disposes and reuses your old Christmas tree to help alleviate landfill waste and diminishing natural resources.”
“If choosing a real tree, consider supporting tree farms that follow sustainable practices, such as replanting and reducing pesticide use,” Solis adds.
“For artificial trees, aim to use them for many years to offset their production impact,” she continues. “Another sustainable option to consider when selecting an artificial Christmas tree is purchasing one from a second-hand store.”
Whatever type of tree you choose this holiday season, the ACTA encourages consumers to make thoughtful choices that are best for their families.
“When it comes to choosing a Christmas tree this year, consumers should consider what tree best fits their needs and traditions,” says Jami Warner, ACTA Executive Director. “We hope that by evaluating what tree works best for them and shopping early, every consumer will find the type and style of tree they are looking for.”
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