Real vs. Fake: The Eco-Conscious Holiday Debate Continues

As the excitement of the upcoming holiday season grows, many of us can’t help but begin to feel that familiar anxiety about choosing an environmentally responsible Christmas tree. Real trees persuade us with their intoxicating aroma, and serve as a daily reminder to celebrate nature. Yet at the same time, the act of bringing a real tree indoors probably means that it’s been chopped down and, now, we’re ironically associated with the act of destroying nature. Ugh, it’s all so depressing, and with another holiday season approaching quickly, we’re once again, faced with the ultimate green holiday debate: real tree vs. fake tree-which is more environmentally-friendly? We’re not about to tell you which tree we think you should choose-that will be up to you. However, we can offer you some interesting pros and cons about both real and artificial Christmas trees, so that you are better prepared to make your final decision.

Workers help wrap a Christmas tree from Mountain Meadow Farms of Columbiana, AL at Pepper Place Farmer's Market.

Workers help wrap a locally grown Christmas tree from Mountain Meadow Farms of Columbiana, AL, at Pepper Place Farmer’s Market.

Let’s begin with the origin of each type of tree. Live trees are grown right here in the United States by farmers who practice some of the best environmental standards. Their trees are most often distributed and sold regionally, if not locally, so the transportation of live trees does not typically create a large volume of environmental pollution. In fact, here in Alabama, there are dozens of Christmas tree farms located across the state-14 of them situated within one hour from the city of Birmingham. While some artificial Christmas trees are also produced here in the U.S., most are manufactured in factories overseas where very little is done to ensure adequate environmental and human rights practices. Additionally, shipping artificial trees from such a distance creates an astounding amount pollution, and causes devastating effects to the environment.

Although artificial trees may appear to be the more cost-effective of the two choices, the average family only keeps a fake tree for about six years before throwing it away. It’s at the point of disposal that the real costs begin to develop. Fake trees are made primarily from PVC, a type of plastic that has been proven to have harmful effects on human health. PVC is also non biodegradable, so when an artificial tree is disposed of, it remains in a landfill for centuries, if not longer. Factories that produce artificial trees made from PVC emit high levels of dioxin, the most toxic man-made chemical in existence exists. According to the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice (CHEJ), due to these, and other negative factors, many of the country’s largest corporations, including Wal-Mart, Target, Apple, and Google, have initiated plans to begin reducing or even phasing out PVC in their products and packaging.

Live Christmas trees come from natural seeds, and in the end, are 100 % biodegradable and decompose in a relatively small amount of time. They can also be recycled into mulch and then reincorporated into the earth where the broken down matter then in turn benefits the soil with its rich nutrients.

It is often argued that live Christmas trees contribute largely to deforestation issues in the U.S. Yet, on average, 40 million trees are planted each year in the United States alone, and according to the National Christmas Tree Association, their growth helps stabilize soil, protect water supplies, and serve as a refuge for wildlife. Each year as live trees are cut down, a fairly equal amount of new seedlings take their place.

Of course, there are other factors to consider as well. Allergy sufferers don’t have much of an option at all when it comes to real vs. fake trees-their health may largely depend on avoiding any type of allergen, whether it’s tree sap, or chemicals. There’s also the possibility that your live Christmas tree will have been sprayed with chemical laden pesticides, which of course presents a whole new set of problems.

There are several alternatives in which help you avoid the Christmas tree debate altogether.  You can purchase a medium-sized tree, still in it’s pot, from a local nursery. Bring it into your home, dress it with simple decorations, and once the holidays are over, plant it in your yard. There is also the option to hang lights from the branches of existing trees in your yard. Additionally, artisan made wooden trees with stands are available for purchase and can be decorated and used over and over again each year.

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