For the first twenty something years of my life, real Christmas trees were the only option I ever knew. And frankly, artificial trees were so depressingly plastic-looking back then, I’m glad it was never an issue in my house. I continued with real trees for the next 10 years of my adult life. Then something happened. We bought a house that had a very tall ceiling and screamed for a tree that was nearly as tall. But after one year of spending nearly $200 on a 12-foot real tree, I knew something had to change.
It didn’t take a math wizard to understand how quickly one can go broke paying for $200 trees each year when today’s fake trees look so realistic. Besides, now they come pre-lit, assemble in three easy pieces and store in a sturdy cardboard box. Within two years, they pay for themselves and on top of that, just think of all the trees I’d save over the years.
We did our shopping, found an artificial tree we liked and made the investment. I felt pretty good about knowing I’d never have to buy another ‘throw-away’ tree again and I’d be doing something good for the environment too.
Then came the move to North Carolina and with it, a house with no ceiling taller than nine feet. That first December, we’re back to square one. Now living near the land of Christmas tree farms galore, what do we do this time?
Actually the decision was easy. Over the previous year, I had researched a lot about various aspects of living a more eco-friendly life as I collected research for my upcoming book. Everything I thought I was doing right for the environment in defense of buying an artificial tree went out the window. Here are a few of the reasons why as noted in a recent conversation I had with Rick Dungey, Public Relations Manager for the National Christmas Tree Association.
Artificial trees never biodegrade
One of the most common reasons for buying an artificial tree is their longevity. Although artificial trees can last for years, eventually they are discarded where they remain in a landfill forever more. Fake trees are non-biodegradable so they never break down.
Real trees are good for the garden
After the season, real trees can be hauled to the back yard as a mini-habitat or it can be ground and used as valuable mulch to retain moisture and improve soil conditions. But in all cases, it is 100% biodegradable.
Artificial trees include potentially harmful material
Part of what makes artificial trees so sturdy are the components used in their construction. PVC plastics are made from petroleum by products, heavy metals are used to stabilize the plastics and the metal branches are mined from the earth. In California, warning labels are even required on artificial trees to alert users of the potential risk of hazardous materials…including lead.
Real trees are good for the environment
In 2008, 45 million new Christmas trees were planted in tree farms across America. At any moment, there are approximately half a billion trees growing for future harvest that otherwise would not be there. While growing, they’re absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, stabilizing soil and providing habitats for wildlife. As trees are harvested, new trees are planted to take their place. And unlike artificial trees, real trees can often be purchased from local farms.
Artificial trees are imported thousands of miles
Buying local and supporting area businesses doesn’t apply to artificial trees. Most are made in China, shipped across the Pacific and then travel many more miles to reach their final destination.
Now, having pretty much bashed the argument in favor of artificial trees as better for the environment, I certainly recognize there are circumstances where they are more appropriate for certain users. Sometimes an artificial tree is the only chance at having any representation of the real thing and I appreciate and respect that. However, when the opportunity presents itself for those that do have an option, think twice before opting for artificial Christmas trees as the greener option, because they’re not.
Rabdy Gates says
I loved this article, I recently left a position at a big box home improvement store, where I ran the nursery. The first few yrs. I worked there, after Christmas we were able to donate left over trees to a local park which sank the trees in their lake to provide spawning grounds for fish. This past year unfortunately, we were under new management and all left over trees were tossed in the dump! I urge anyone reading this to try and purchase left overs from tree selling sites for a minimal price. Most places are reasonable enough to see that $1.00 per tree (although a profit loss), is less expensive than the charge for hauling them away. Im sure anyone with acid loving shrubs can see where the needles provided, are worth the minimal price. Also the left over wood can be used for numerous garden projects, including rustic fences or furniture.
Joe Lamp'l says
I literally felt my skin crawl when I read your comment about how the new manager put the leftover trees in the dump! How stupid and how much I can relate! There was a time when I would go by my local big box store and they would let me collect all the torn bags of soil and mulch for a nominal fee. One week, the new manager kept putting me off, saying they hadn’t collected their damaged goods yet and to check back later. This when on for several days. Finally I happened to be driving behind the store on my way to check on the bags, and they had just tossed dozens and dozens of slightly torn bags of soil, mulch and amendments in the dumpster, knowing full well I was coming to get it, pay them for it, and then put it in my home landscape! What’s with these people?
Anyway, you struck a nerve. But yes, recycling leftover trees for any use is better than adding them to a dumpster! Thanks for your comment.