Artificial vs. Real Christmas Trees

Which is better for the environment – a real or artificial Christmas tree?

Many of us look forward to decorating for the holidays and the tree is a tradition that dates back to 16th century Germany, rising out of an ancient tradition of celebrating the winter solstice with evergreens, candles and other customs that honored their gods. Now we decorate our trees with beautiful lights and ornaments that often are handed down through generations of family. This often helps get us into the festive holiday spirit during the darkest days of the year in the northern hemisphere.

Christmas trees are a $2 billion dollar per year industry and still growing. Tree farms sell around 30 million trees per year – that’s a lot of trees! With concerns about climate change growing and the knowledge that trees are a great carbon sink, should we be cutting that many trees? As it turns out, the answer is YES!

Let’s look at artificial trees first. In the US around 10 million artificial trees are purchased annually and nearly 90% of them are shipped from China – that’s a lot of carbon emissions just in transit. Add in the petroleum products used in their creation, the emissions from their manufacture, the fact that they can’t be recycled and you end up with a pretty big carbon footprint for an artificial tree.

On the other hand, for every tree that is cut, tree farmers typically plant 2 or 3 seedlings to take its place. In the 6 – 10 years it takes for them to grow to a usable size, they’re absorbing lots of carbon from the atmosphere. Studies have shown that one of the best ways to protect forests are to carefully use them. When sustainably managed, they can provide renewable resources like wood products (and Christmas trees) while providing habitat for wildlife. Well-maintained and managed forests store as much carbon as unmanaged forests. Real tree purchases support local communities, the trees can be recycled and given a second life and they even smell good!

Probably the very best Christmas tree is one that can be planted after the holidays, but if you can’t do that, support a local tree farmer with a locally grown and cut Christmas tree! Here’s a link to get you started: Bucks County, Pennsylvania → Christmas Tree Farms

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