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Which is Greener? Real vs. Fake Christmas Trees

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MarkBoyer

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Photo credit: Douglass fir (at left) by Flickr user David Watson, artificial tree (at right) by PossibiliTree

Every year, environmentally-conscious holiday planners are confronted with an age-old dilemma: to cut down a real, live tree or to erect an artificial one.

On the one hand, cutting down a tree seems mighty wasteful. Yet there's tradition in putting up a real one, and it fills your house with a pleasant smell. On the other side of the coin, artificial trees can save you money in the long run, and they're safe for people with certain tree allergies (like me).

My answer is that Christmas tree farming isn't inherently bad. In fact, when done sustainably, tree farming can help to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And considering that there are approximately 350 million Christmas trees growing in the US right now, there could be great benefits to farming Christmas trees. However, the way Christmas trees are grown and disposed of after holidays are very important variables. Many tree farmers use a lot of synthetic pesticides and herbicides (I'll have more on this in a later post), and many trees end up in landfills during the first week of January.

As far as artificial trees are concerned, traditional varieties (the ones that look like real trees) are mostly made of PVC, which is highly toxic, but in recent years some designers have started to stray from the topiary norm, and they've introduced a handful of more abstract Christmas tree designs to the market (like the one at the top of this post). The blog Apartment Therapy has a post showing a few of these new designs, which range in price from $19 to more than $350.

Even though they make me sneeze, I still prefer a real tree that's raised organically. The best advice I've read on what to do with the tree after Christmas comes from Deborah Gangloff, executive director of American Forests: "The very best thing you can do is buy a live tree--not a cut tree, but a live tree, with a root ball," and when you're finished with it, take it back outside and plant it.

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4 Comments

DorotheeRoyal said:

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I really like the design of the PossibiliTree - such a great idea! I might try that next year.

MarkBoyer said:

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Actually, I prefer those mini rosemary Christmas trees that are sold at grocery stores. They smell good, and after Christmas is over, you get to eat 'em.

Mike Doyle said:

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I've dabbled with real trees, but in the end, I always think that real--or worse, small--trees that cannot kill you if they fall over are not festive enough. I guess we gravitate to what we had growing up, and in my family it was always a huge, fake, colored-light-festooned tree. Riffing off of your post, I blogged about family Christmas tree traditions on Chicagosphere today.

BugMagnet said:

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Let's consider that a plastic tree could last 20 years before going to that landfill.

That is 20 trees saved.

Considering the first tree would have been about 2 years old when cut, it is now 22 years old and still living.

Each of the other 19 trees are 21, 20, 19... etc years old.

How much CO2 is being absorbed by each of those trees over 20 years. I guarantee it is far more than that plastic tree. Don't be fooled to think its ok to kill trees.

Merry Xmas

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