As the holiday season approaches, many families are deciding between live and artificial Christmas trees.
There are environmental impacts to consider with both options. Looking at the full lifecycle shows real trees may be the more sustainable choice, but there are steps you can take to buy responsibly.
Growth and Production of Real Trees
Real Christmas trees typically take 7-10 years to reach the right size to be sold and harvested.
During this multi-year growth process, the trees go through photosynthesis, absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and releasing oxygen. This makes them effective carbon sinks, helping to combat climate change.
Christmas tree farms provide habitats for animals and birds. The land helps absorb rainfall, prevents soil erosion, and can be part of a biodiverse ecosystem.
After trees are harvested, most farms immediately replant new seedlings to start the growth cycle again.
However, there are some sustainability concerns around pesticides. Some farms may use chemical pesticides and fertilizers to protect against insects and disease.
This can impact local waterways and wildlife. Farm equipment like tractors also produce emissions.
When the trees are harvested, there’s energy used to cut, transport, and distribute them to retailers. Proper management is needed to reduce these environmental impacts.
Manufacturing Artificial Trees
Artificial Christmas trees are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic derived from fossil fuels.
The manufacturing process to make PVC emits pollutants including dioxins, furans, mercury, and other toxins.
PVC trees are not biodegradable or recyclable, so they end up in landfills after disposal.
The average lifecycle of an artificial tree is only about 6 years before they are thrown out.
However, reusing an artificial tree for many years avoids repeat harvesting of real trees.
The longer a fake tree is used, the better its carbon footprint compared to buying real trees each year. But old artificial trees are often discarded and replaced.
Buy Real Trees Responsibly
To reduce the carbon footprint, look for Christmas trees grown locally on sustainable farms. Shipping trees long distances increases emissions.
Seek out farms practicing integrated pest management with limited chemical use. Ask if they protect water quality, soils, and wildlife habitats. Organic and certified sustainable trees are ideal.
Reduce waste by recycling or composting your tree after the holidays. Many municipalities offer Christmas tree collection or drop-offs to be composted or mulched rather than sent to the landfill.
When it comes to getting your tree this year, both options are viable. While some think cutting down a tree to have it slowly die in your living room may seem irresponsible, it actually isn’t as bad as buying an artificial tree and replacing it every few years.