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December 16, 2011 at 1:39 PMComments: 2 Faves: 0

Go (ever)green this Christmas: buy a real Christmas tree

By Laura Hogg More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the NatuREport Blog Series

For as long as I can remember, it's been a tradition in my family's house to all go out together and cut down our own Christmas tree. We brave the bitter cold, the snow, and sometimes the freezing rain, in order to pick out the perfect tree, clutching cups of hot chocolate poured by the owner of the lot as we watch my dad saw down our chosen evergreen.

Though I love the tradition, lately I've been thinking: isn't it a little bit environmentally irresponsible to have millions of people each cut down a tree, use it for a few weeks, and then toss it?

As it turns out - it's not. At all. In fact, in general it's much better than the alternative: using a fake tree. Here's the breakdown:

Fake Trees

Fake trees are made from a petroleum-derived plastic, which can contain harmful toxins (lead, for example). Most of these trees are made in China (where else?) in factories that burn coal for electricity - not exactly the cleanest fuel source. Their carbon footprint goes up a few shoe sizes when they are shipped across the ocean in diesel-powered ships.

Once the tree reaches the end of its strangely short life expectancy (most families keep fake trees for only 5-6 years) it will sit in a landfill until the end of time - keeping busy by, you know, not biodegrading.

If you do buy a fake tree, make sure to buy something made as locally as possible, and reuse it - pass it down for decades if you can! If you keep it for decades, it will actually result in a smaller carbon footprint over time. If you keep it as long as the average family does...not so much.

Real Trees

Real tree farmsprovide employment for some 100,000 people, and are completely recyclable. In places such as New York City, old Christmas trees are recycled into mulch throughout the city, including for Central Park. They can be used for all kinds of things, said Rick Dungey, a spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association (which apparently is a real thing). People use them as fish habitats, as heron nesting grounds, to prevent beach erosion, and to preserve freshwater marshes.

Oh, and while they're waiting to be cut down, purify groundwater, clean the air, stabilize the soil, and provide habitats for animals.

In other words, they pretty much put our environmental efforts to shame.

What do you think? If you have a fake tree, how long have you used it - and would you consider switching to the real deal? And if you buy the real thing, do you recycle it?


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  • Thank you for posting this Laura. I like you love a real Christmas tree the fresh smell evergreen smell. i love it!! and you always get someone complaining that it is better to get a fake tree because there is no mess an so on and so forth. So it is nice to hear the positive things on why it is good to have a real Christmas tree. .

  • We have a fake tree at home and I wish we didn't because I too enjoy the ritual of going out to select your tree and the smell of the real thing - BUT we inherited the tree from my fiance's parents and I feel like it'd be a waste to cut down a tree that could grow and offer up more CO2 for our planet. :/ I'm for cutting down a real tree so long as it comes from a farm. Trees growing naturally in the woods should be left alone to provide housing and food for woodland creatures, not ornamenting out homes, in my opinion.

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