If you are like many Americans, you may annually debate about whether to buy a real or artificial tree for Christmas. If environmental impact is an important deciding factor to you, artificial trees are not the earth-friendly choice they may seem to be, for many reasons.
An artificial tree is not a lifetime investment. The average lifespan of an artificial tree is about six years. After years of storage, no artificial tree can be “fluffed” or decorated enough to make it look like more than a tree that’s been crammed into the attic one to many seasons and better looking artificial trees keep showing up in stores. Once that tree is sent to the landfill, it will stay there forever because artificial trees are not recyclable nor are they biodegradable. Live trees, on the other hand, are made into mulch.
85% of all Christmas trees that are sold in the United States are made in China out of PVC plastic. Jennifer Berry on LiveScience.com discusses the negative environmental impact of processing PVC for artificial trees:
First of all, to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, you need petroleum, a non-renewable, carbon-emitting resource. There’s also a release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) during their manufacture, processing and shipping.
Fresh trees, on the other hand, recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen during their life span, improving the quality of the air. Artificial trees, on the other hand, will fill your living room with that new pipe smell…
If you are a California resident, you may have noticed that artificial trees are required to carry a warning label due to Prop 95’s requirements to attach the following warning to products containing high amounts of lead:
Warning, this product contains chemicals, including lead, known to the State of California, to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.
Granted, you won’t be eating your Christmas ham and holiday cookies off the tree, but you also won’t want to turn your back on teething children playing next to the tree either.
The delivery of both artificial and real trees from their location of origin to your living room will require carbon emissions from transportation. But while live trees are being transported from local Christmas tree farms, artificial trees are being transported from China. Also the artificial tree hasn’t been spending its life cleaning the air before ending up in your living room like the live tree it has been cloning.
The better environmental alternative to purchasing a Christmas tree is to either purchase a living tree that can be replanted or to purchase a tree from a Christmas tree farm, which is a sustainable, renewable resource that is beneficial to the environment. For an article listing the full benefits of a live tree click here.
Berry, Jennifer. “Fake Christmas Trees Not So Green.” Live Science. Internet. . December 9, 2008.
National Christmas Tree Association. “What You Might Not Know About Fake Christmas Trees.” Internet. . 2010.