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Is a Living Christmas Tree Really Better Than a Fake One?

Is a Living Christmas Tree Really Better Than a Fake One?

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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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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110 comments

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7:07PM PST on Dec 29, 2013

I use both. I've got a fake and beautiful tree I arrange to be in the living room next to the Christmas stable, which I think is even more important. I also have a pine tree planted in the garden which I decorate as well. I hate the idea of people cutting and killing trees for Christmas.

6:14PM PST on Dec 28, 2013

ty

6:21PM PST on Dec 20, 2013

Terribly wasteful the number of trees that are killed just for what? Sadly we live in a disposable world. Look at the pollution all around caused by our all waste. Trees help mitigate the damage we are doing to poor mother earth. When we're done destroying the environment what will be left?

9:54AM PST on Dec 20, 2013

thanks

5:30AM PST on Dec 20, 2013

Whatever works for you and your family. We travel a lot over the Christmas period so a real tree (as nice as they are) is not practical and can also be a fire hazard in an empty house.

11:18PM PST on Dec 19, 2013

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas but this year I'm glad I'm getting away from it. My children have grown and gone, my wife, sadly is no longer with me and the abhorent commercialism of it all makes me sick. So no tree this year, no decorations, no appalling tv commercials advertising items that only increase one's debt and no fake pseudo religious rubbish.
Cynical moi, NO! Look at what Christmas has become and consider what it means to you. All I see is is cynical manipulation of the retail machine.
As for real or fake - well extend that to Christmas and let's get back to real.

Ouch!

Oh yes

Happy Christmad and all the very best for the New Year - to everyone in the world. xx

11:10PM PST on Dec 19, 2013

Thank you.

6:22AM PST on Dec 18, 2013

Every year it seemed my mother wanted a traditional indoor cut tree and the rest of the family wanted to decorate the evergreen in the front yard for the birds. Every year it seemed, we ended up with both a fake indoor tree (allergies such that a real cut tree was out of the question) and decoration on the outdoor live tree.

10:53AM PST on Dec 17, 2013

thank you

10:38AM PST on Dec 17, 2013

I would rather have no tree than a fake - especially one made in China. If you have a real tree please be sure to recycle it! My cypress hedge needs pruning about once a year and I save one of the tops to make a Christmas tree and later burn it on my wood burner and compost the twigs. With a bit of imagination and ingenuity there are all sorts of alternatives to either living trees or fakes.

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