Real Or Artificial – The Christmas Tree Debate from an Environmental View

Samantha Zeitz

If you celebrated Christmas recently, did you have a real or artificial tree?

While you were debating which kind of tree to purchase, you probably weren’t thinking about the environmental impact your Christmas tree could have. However, Christmas tree growers and manufactures think about this. The industry trade group, the American Christmas Tree Association began a study to compare the lifetime environmental impact of real and artificial trees.

According to The Hamilton Spectator, 95 million families across America put up Christmas trees every year. But, how do you know what tree to buy? The study that was launched a few years ago indicates that both types of tree come with costs.

Real trees require dirt, water, pesticide, herbicides, and fungicides. In some cases, the trees are even sprayed with a colourant so the green doesn’t fade. Once the trees are grown to the desired size and colour, transportation is needed, adding in the cost of gasoline and human labour.

One part of the real Christmas tree process that many people misunderstand is that the trees that are cut down for the holidays aren’t coming from forests. They are grown on farms in California, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and other states, or in the case of Canada, on farm fields across the nation. They are all nurtured with the purpose of being cut down. A bonus is that while the trees are growing, they’re also removing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it into oxygen.

On the other side, artificial Christmas trees are made of PVC plastic, steel and aluminum and are packaged in cardboard. Most of these trees are made in Asia so there are also transportation costs that need to be considered.

However, what the trees are made of and how they’re transported isn’t the deciding factor of which option is more eco-friendly. It comes down to the lifespan of the trees. When you purchase a real tree, you have to dispose of it each year while artificial trees can be used multiple times. It’s estimated for an artificial tree to be the most eco-friendly choice it has to be used for nine years.

There is no data to see how long artificial trees are kept but the trade group’s executive director, told The Hamilton Spectator that in the end there’s no bad choice when it comes to a Christmas tree.