How Artificial Christmas Trees Are Melting Santa's Homeland

by ‐ Tags: green living, resources

Every year my family makes the annual trip to the nearby Christmas tree farm to pick out the perfect Canaan fir for our living room.  However, as an environmentally-conscious consumer, I always wonder which is better: a live tree or an artificial one.  I did some research, and have found that my family’s tradition of bringing home a live tree is the more environmentally-friendly option when compared to purchasing an artificial tree from the nearby superstore.

A study by a consulting firm, Ellipsos, compared the environmental impacts of real versus artificial Christmas trees by evaluating the life cycles of Christmas trees bought in Montreal and artificial trees manufactured in China.  In terms of carbon dioxide emissions, they found that the life cycle of natural trees produces only 39% of carbon dioxide emissions that the manufacturing of artificial trees produces.  93% of these emissions come from the manufacturing and transport of artificial trees, most of which are imported to the U.S. from China. 

 While some people believe that if they reuse their artificial trees that they will help the environment, the below figure shows that it would take twenty years before the impact the life cycle of artificial trees has on climate change would be equivalent to the impact of the life cycle of natural trees.WegoWise

Purchasing natural trees not only has a lesser impact on the environment than purchasing an artificial tree, but is also a healthier option.  Artificial trees are made out of PVC, polyvinyl chloride, which produces carcinogens during production and disposal.  Lead poisoning is also a concern.         

Some believe that if we truly care about our carbon footprint that we should refrain from purchasing Christmas trees regardless of whether they’re artificial or natural.  However, in comparison to the activities we complete on a daily basis, the carbon footprint of purchasing either Christmas tree is very small.  Ellipsos, in their study, determined that by carpooling or biking to work one to three weeks a year, the carbon emissions created by the life cycles of both types of Christmas trees would be offset.

So before all of the tallest, fattest Christmas trees are snatched up for the season, take a trip to a nearby Christmas tree farm and find the perfect tree.  It may not be as easy as loading a cardboard box with a tree from China into your trunk, but you won’t regret your decision when the smell of pine fills your living room.  And after your tree has served its purpose, you can compost your tree, turn it into mulch, or look into options in your town for tree pick-up days.  That’s a much more environmentally-friendly option than having to dispose of your PVC, artificial tree once it’s useful life is over.