While some enjoy the scent of a real tree and the joy of picking one from a local farm, others prefer the simplicity of artificial trees that they can reuse for upcoming Christmases.
But consumers are becoming more climate conscious, and thinking about which tree has the least impact on our rapidly warming planet has become a vital part of the holiday decision. Plus, choosing a planet-friendly tree will likely put you on your good Santa list.
So, which type of tree has the lowest carbon footprint – a natural tree or a store-bought plastic tree? Experts say it’s complicated.
“It’s definitely more subtle and complex than you think,” Andy Fenton, director of landscape conservation and forest ecologist for The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, told CNN.
We’ve made a list – and double-checked – of the things you need to know before choosing between real and fake.
The case for artificial trees
It’s easy to imagine that reusing an artificial tree year after year is the most sustainable option. But Fenton says that if an artificial tree has been used for less than six years, the carbon cost is greater than investing in a natural tree.
“If artificial trees are used for longer, that balance shifts,” Fenton told CNN. “And I’ve read that it will take 20 years for the carbon balance to be roughly.”
Then there is the transportation aspect. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, most artificial Christmas trees are imported into the United States from China, which means the products are transported by fossil-fueled ships across the Pacific Ocean, then ferried by heavy freight trucks before finally landing on distributor shelves. or the consumer’s doorstep.
“Artificial trees were looked at [in the study] “For factors like manufacturing and offshoring,” ACTA executive director Jamie Warner told CNN. “Planting, fertilizing and irrigation were taken into account for real trees, which have an approximate field planting period of seven to eight years.”
What are the benefits of real trees?
If trees are cut down or burned, they can release the carbon they were storing back into the atmosphere. But Doug Hundley, a spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association, which advocates for real trees, says cutting Christmas trees off a farm is a balancing act when growers immediately plant more seedlings to replace.
“When we harvest or chop down trees, we plant again very quickly,” Hundley said.
“For me, the benefit of going to a Christmas tree farm, which is different from cutting down a tree in the woods, is that it concentrates the clearing effect in one place,” he said. It places the responsibility on farmers to regenerate those trees. “
“What we do with our natural Christmas tree purchase is support local economies, local communities, local farmers and for me, that’s an essential part of the conservation equation,” Fenton said. “When a tree farmer can reap economic benefits from his land, he is less likely to sell it for development and less likely to convert it to other uses.”
get rid of issues
“Real Christmas trees that end up in landfills is very frustrating,” Hundley said, adding that there should be “separate yard waste areas where Christmas trees can go.”
“When the homeowner has finished using the tree, it is very easy and common in America to chop the tree down to mulch — and the stored carbon is returned to the land,” Hundley added.
Fenton also says that former Christmas trees can be reused to restore habitat; They can help control erosion if placed along streams and river banks, and they can also help underwater habitats thrive if placed in rivers and lakes.
The end of life of an artificial tree varies a lot. They end up in landfills – where they can take hundreds of years to decompose – or incinerators, where they release dangerous chemicals.
Given the pros and cons of a complex climate, real Christmas trees have preference. But if you choose to artificially decorate your halls, get a tree that you will love and reuse for many years.
Either way, Fenton said, people should feel good about their decision and find other ways to tackle the climate crisis.
“It’s a debate, but once you make a decision, you should feel good about your decision, because there are many other things we can do in our lives that have a greater impact on the climate – like reducing leadership or advocating for policies that expand renewable energy,” he said. Fenton. “Enjoy the holidays and focus on other aspects of your life to reduce the effects of climate change.”