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Real or Fake?

Madison Woodward


Every holiday season many families and individuals are wondering the same thing: which type of Christmas tree should they buy? Real or fake? In recent years, more consumers are becoming aware of the environmental impacts of their purchases. In this case, many are concerned about which type of Christmas tree has the most negative ecological effects in the long-term. So, one question remains; which is better for the environment?

While it is commonly assumed that only Christians partake in the holiday by placing evergreen trees in their homes, that is not entirely true. The origin of Christmas trees began centuries ago due to pagan customs, and the modern Christmas tree emerged from Germany during the 16th century. The tradition of buying and decorating a tree is embraced by millions worldwide, no matter their faith or culture values. A study found that 81% of non-Christians, whether they are agnostic, atheist, or practice a different belief, celebrate Christmas in the United States. However, the majority of non-Christians view the holiday as a “cultural” event rather than a religious occasion.

This brings us to the question once again: which type is considered more eco-friendly? Artificial or real trees? There are multiple factors to consider, however, Bill Ulfelder, executive director of the Nature Conservancy in New York, answers that debate, “A real Christmas tree can be more sustainable than an artificial one.” Real trees can actually provide conservation benefits, while artificial trees are proven to be harmful to the environment.

Approximately 10 million artificial trees are purchased every season in the U.S., and 90% of those types of trees are shipped overseas. This has resulted in an increase of carbon emissions and resources. The manufacturing stage accounts for 70% of total greenhouse gas emissions that are released during the lifetime of a fake tree. This is due to the construction of its two energy-intensive materials: steel and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic that contributes to heavy amounts of pollution, and can also be a source of lead. That is also why many carry a warning label for the toxins they contain.

According to research, one million extra tons of waste are discarded each week from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day annually. A portion of that trash consists of fake trees, and keep in mind: plastic trees are not biodegradable, so they are disposed of in landfills for centuries on end.

Meanwhile, real trees are actually a renewable resource. There are 4,000 programs across the U.S. that recycle real trees. You can also use it for composting! 350 million grow on farms in the U.S. alone, while only 30 million are harvested each year. The remaining help regulate the climate due to their properties of absorbing carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen. Other important features include their ability to protect water supply, provide habitat for wildlife, stabilize soil, and create a scenic view for onlookers. Farmers are also instructed to plant one-to-three seedlings for every tree harvested.

So, when it comes to picking your tree, choose wisely; your choice could potentially have a negative influence on nature.


Citations

  1. "The Christmas tree: From pagan origins and Christian symbolism to secular status,” Penny Travers. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-19/the-history-of-the-christmas-tree/8106078

  2. “Christmas also celebrated by many non-Christians,” Besheer Mohamed. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/12/23/christmas-also-celebrated-by-many-non-christians/

  3. “Are real or artificial Christmas trees better for the environment?” Allyson Chiu. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2022/11/25/artificial-tree-real-christmas-environment/

  4. “Real vs. Fake—Which Christmas tree is better for the environment?” The Nature Conservancy. https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-priorities/protect-water-and-land/land-and-water-stories/real-vs-fake-christmas-tree/

  5. “Your Christmas Tree’s Carbon Footprint,” Margaret Morales. https://www.sightline.org/2015/12/21/your-christmas-trees-carbon-footprint/

  6. “Real vs. Fake Christmas Trees: The Great Debate Over Environmental Impact,” Andrew Krosofsky. https://www.greenmatters.com/p/real-vs-fake-christmas-trees

  7. National Christmas Tree Association. https://realchristmastrees.org/education/quick-tree-facts/


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