The Christmas tree was a huge ritual for me as a child. My parents insisted on honoring just the 12 days of Christmas, so we decorated our tree late on Christmas Eve, placing the angel firmly at the top, just before leaving to attend midnight mass. The tree was taken down promptly on January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas.
For those twelve days each year, we always had a real tree. I don’t remember artificial trees being an option in my small English town. Today, however, most of us have a choice: should we buy a real tree or a fake tree?
Each year, Americans buy about 30 million real trees and about 13 million fake ones. These artificial trees are usually reused, as the number of artificial trees actually strung up each year is about 50 million.
If you celebrate Christmas, chances are good that you’re going to be looking for a Christmas tree.
Although it might seem obvious that a real tree is more eco-friendly than a fake tree, it’s actually a little more complicated than that. Think about it: Is it better to cut down a living tree that sequesters carbon, or to buy a plastic one from China (where about 85 percent of them come from), which could last at least five years, but will still end up in a landfill eventually?
Or, another way to look at it: With artificial trees, the plastic takes a long time to break down once it is in the landfill, and then there’s the factory end of making the tree and shipping it to the store. Not so green, right? On the other hand, cutting down and hauling live trees also leaves a carbon footprint due to the gas for tractors, trucks and other equipment, as well for driving them to the lot or store.
How Long Have Artificial Trees Been Around?
The first fake tree was probably the wooden tree-shaped pyramid with candles built by a church in Bethlehem, Penn., in 1747. Jumping forward a couple of centuries, in 1930 the Addis Brush Company used the same animal-hair bristles as they used for their toilet brushes to create an artificial Christmas tree. Sounds appealing, yes?
Then came aluminum trees, in the 50s and 60s, and finally today, most fake trees are made of petroleum-based PVC, with plenty of carcinogens produced during their fabrication.
Personally, I will always prefer a real tree, perhaps because that’s what I grew up with, but more likely because fake trees just seem wrong to me. After all, nearly all fake trees are made from harmful plastics that are non-recyclable.
Pros and Cons
Living Green offers some additional pros and cons on both sides:
*Real trees are primarily grown on farms to minimize deforestation. These farms are often marginal for crops but work for trees, and preserve green spaces. However, pesticides and chemicals are used to some amount.
*Real trees generate oxygen and absorb carbon from the air while alive. Artificial trees create factory pollution.
*Real trees are often recycled into mulch. They also leave a mess of needles, and require regular watering—especially if you want to minimize needle loss.
Personally, I recommend getting a living Christmas tree this year. After the holidays, you can plant it in the ground or keep it in its pot and use it again next year. You can even donate it to a plant-a-tree organization. Or, if you don’t want to deal with the tree after the holidays are over, consider renting a living tree from The Living Christmas Tree Company.
Which do you prefer? Real or fake?
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