A Guide to Real vs. Fake Christmas Trees

It is that time of year again. Millions of people take certain types of evergreen trees, place them in their homes, decorate them with lights and ornaments, and place gifts underneath them until December 25th rolls around. The Christmas tree is one of the most revered traditions of the Holiday season. Because evergreen trees do not lose their leaves during the winter, they have long been esteemed as sacred by several cultures in our world’s northern latitudes. While Germany is credited with having begun the Christmas tree tradition in the 1500s, today, Christmas trees have become a part of the traditions everywhere from Manhattan to Managua to Mozambique.

However, in recent decades, the fresh, sweet smell of pine, fir, or cedar needles has been replaced by plastic imitation trees that conveniently fold up until the next Christmas season. If you are undecided on whether to opt for a real or fake Christmas tree this year, below, we have a complete comparison guide on the pros and cons of both.

The Truth behind Fake Trees

Because the holidays are often hectic, many people look to get rid of the hassle of purchasing a new Christmas tree each year. To many, an artificial Christmas tree is an easy way to maintain the Christmas tree tradition and free up time for other holiday activities. According to the Christmas Tree Association, of the close to 100 million American households, which will have a Christmas tree in their home this year, 80% will be artificial trees.

Do Artificial Christmas Tress Cost Less Than Real Trees?

On the positive side, artificial Christmas trees represent economic savings, as they are generally cheaper than real trees and can be reused year after year. Unfortunately, several disadvantages to both the health, environment, and local economies come with these types of trees.

Are Artificial Trees Toxic?

Artificial or fake Christmas trees are manufactured using PVC plastic, which will release dioxins over time, especially as they age and begin to decompose. Dioxins have been shown to cause several types of health problems, including cancer and neurological damage. These plastic trees also represent a fire hazard, and if your PVC tree catches on fire, a large number of dangerous dioxins will be released into your home. Older models of artificial Christmas trees might even include traces of lead, which can leach into the house, causing several severe health problems.

Are Artificial Christmas Trees Environmentally Friendly?

From the environmental perspective, the plastic used to make artificial trees is derived from petroleum, thus contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. 85% of all artificial Christmas trees are made in China. The energetic cost of shipping those trees to the United States (and worldwide) represents yet another major source of pollutions associated with these types of trees.

What Are The Benefits of Real Trees?

The artificial Christmas tree industry might convince us that these trees are environmentally friendly because they reduce deforestation. The reality is that growing and selling Christmas trees is a major benefit to the environment. A report cited by the David Suzuki Foundation found that artificial trees have three times the impact on the environment than real trees. The study assumed that an artificial tree lasts six years. The study did note that artificial trees became more environmentally friendly if they lasted 20 years and if a real tree required a long drive.

Is Cutting Christmas Trees Bad for the Environment?

Over 350 million Christmas trees are currently growing in the United States, while only 25 to 30 million trees are sold this year. The Christmas tree industry is a prime example of sustainable forestry practices wherein trees are responsibly cut and replanted.

Where Do Christmas Trees Come From?

Since importing live Christmas trees is a challenging and bureaucratic process, almost all real Christmas trees are grown locally by small farmers. These tree farms often dedicate a marginal piece of their land to grow Christmas trees, thus improving their income while also helping to suck carbon out of the air.

Can You Buy a Potted Christmas Tree?

If you do not want to cut down a tree to have in your home for a month or two, there are also several places where you can buy live potted Christmas trees whose roots are encased in a burlap sack. After the Christmas season ends, you take your tree out to the edge of your property and plant it.

How Can I Dispose of a Christmas Tree?

While artificial Christmas trees cannot be recycled, almost every major city in the country has a Christmas tree recycling program. These programs often turn your old tree into wood chips and mulch to be used in parks, thus improving soil quality. Artificial Christmas trees destined for a landfill can take up to 400 years to decompose while releasing toxins over the years.

While artificial Christmas trees come in a box and are mass-produced, taking your family to the Christmas tree lot to pick the perfect tree is unique. It’s also a great way to spend quality time with the family and support sustainable agroforestry practices that benefit local farmers.

While we as consumers have little control over how real and artificial trees are produced, we can play a significant role in how environmentally friendly we are. For real trees, this means selecting potted Christmas trees or properly recycling trees after the holidays. The longer you can reuse your tree year after year for artificial tree owners, the lower the environmental impact.

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