Lately, I’ve seen a lot of well-meaning posts from people around my social networks, with comments like, “well I want to protect the environment….that’s why we’re getting a fake Christmas tree this year.” Suddenly I was like crap, should I be feeling super guilty that we get a real Christmas tree when we get one? Am I doing something awful in the name of tradition, festivity, and that delicious real pine scent?
Just then, a post from The Nature Conservancy blog popped up in my twitter feed: Real Vs. Fake: Which Christmas Tree is Better for the Environment?
The Nature Conservancy is one of my go-to charities — I’ve been donating to this incredibly impactful conservation org for 20+ years, and longtime readers will know that I recommend donating to them on Cool Mom Picks, every chance I get.
I gritted my teeth as I clicked through.
The TL;DR answer: Real Christmas trees are best for the environment. Surprised? Here’s the deal:
About artificial Christmas trees:
– Artificial Christmas trees can be pretty, campy, very fun, and save you a lot of money over the long-run. They are also often the only kind of tree allowed in some locations, like in building lobbies where real trees may be prohibited.
– That said…fake Christmas trees, while reusable (which is good!) are not recyclable (which is bad). They’re mostly made of plastic — a lot of plastic — and basically end up in local landfills.
– The 10 million artificial Christmas trees produced each year are not recyclable, since the plastic they are made of is generally PVC. If you want to read more about the problems with PVC, have at it. It’s not good.
– Artificial Christmas trees come with a sizable carbon footprint. That’s due to the oil used to make the PVC plastic, the emissions produced in the manufacturing process, and then the emissions released and resources consumed through long-distance shipping.
– 90% of artificial trees are shipped all the way from China. So, yes, long distance.
About real Christmas trees:
– Cutting down a real Christmas tree helps fight climate change and support forests. Actually, it’s good because you’re cutting it down. This is in part what helps protect and preserve forests and wildlife.
– There are 350-500 million trees growing on tree farms. That’s a whole lot of oxygen that’s created, pollutants absorbed through leaves, airborne contaminants filtered, and more benefits for the planet.
– Only about 10% of the trees grown are harvested and sold in the U.S., with the rest remaining on farms. These tens of millions of remaining trees keep a lot of lands covered in a healthy forest habitat, which is essential for the health of more than 4,000 wildlife species. (The Nature Conservancy does a lot of great work supporting our planet’s forests by the way.)
– Real Christmas trees don’t require the intensive carbon emissions to produce and shipping, as artificial ones do.
– When you’re done with a real Christmas tree, it can be recycled, mulched, and reused for conservation and habitat projects. In NYC for example, each year after Christmas the city has Mulchfest until mid-January, in which trees are turned into wood chips used to nourish growing trees around the city. Most community has a similar program, either pick-up or drop off. Be sure to search for one where you live!
– For more info, Mental Floss shares 9 ways that Christmas trees are used after the holidays beyond mulching, like transforming into lumber for homes (the Rockefeller Center Tree for example is donated to Habitat for Humanity); propping up sand dunes; restoring marshland; and protecting hiking trails.
– Real Christmas trees support local communities and private landowners, giving them the financial resources they need for reforestation efforts, and all the good that does.
– The Nature Conservancy claims that we can cut more than 30% of carbon emissions needed to slow climate change with natural solutions, and that includes restoring our forests. Purchasing real Christmas does this.
So wow. Now you know.
And hey, this isn’t to make anyone feel guilty about their choices; we all do the best we can with the information we have, even when that information seems to be changing faster than we can keep up with it. If you already own an artificial tree, just be sure you use it as long as humanly possible, to keep it out of landfills as long as possible. Maybe by then we’ll have some new ways to handle it.
Whatever tree you have though, just remember to turn out all those Christmas tree lights when you leave the house. That goes for my kids, especially.
Donate to Nature.org this year! I do. Also check out the Nature Conservancy’s free guide to having a greener holiday.