Still debating on whether to go real or artificial for this year's Christmas tree? According to Newswise, the winner is that old-fashioned, living, breathing, carbon-sequestering noble fir (or any living Christmas tree, for that matter).
Clint Springer, Ph.D., a botanist and global warming expert at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, said that when making the choice, environmental impact should be at the top of your list. While many consumers may think they are considering the environment when purchasing a fake tree, they may not understand the entire footprint of that PVC tree. Also, given the current economic climate, artificial trees may be appealing for their "investment" appeal, whereas a real tree is a recurrent, annual expense.
A PVC Christmas
For artificial tress, the rub lies in their fabrication. First of all, to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, you need petroleum, a non-renewable, carbon-emitting resource. There's also a release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) during their manufacture, processing and shipping.
Also, don't let the word "plastic" fool you, artificial tress are not recyclable. "Another huge drawback to fake trees is that eventually, they will end up in a landfill where they will linger in the environment forever, whereas live trees are recycled and made into mulch," Springer explains.
The All-Mighty $
Sure, spending a couple hundred dollars for a purchase that you could potentially use many years over sounds appealing. However, Springer says the choice to go "live" helps the economy more, considering the Christmas tree industry brings in over $500 million annually, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. "For example, Pennsylvania boasts more Christmas tree farms than any other state – while most artificial trees are produced in China," he says.
Not Sold Yet?
"An expenditure on a live tree results in a carbon neutral purchase that poses very little environmental threat, while injecting money into the domestic economy," said Springer.
For Springer, the ideal tree is raised organically, eliminating any pollution from pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides. Also, this organic tree is raised somewhere near to the consumer, to reduce GHG emissions in transport.
If finding an organically grown tree is problematic, the live tree still beats a plastic one — even considering the potential pollution from pesticides. Research from North Carolina State University has shown that the run-off of chemicals to streams by Christmas tree farms does not cause a significant threat to water quality.
On top of these environmental and economical benefits, Christmas tree growers must use sustainability in their farms — otherwise, they would run out of trees to ship to you each Christmas. They plant saplings to replace trees sold for the holiday season harvest, which culminates in a zero net exchange of greenhouse gases over the life of each purchased tree, according to Springer.
When you're done with your live tree this year, be sure to go zero-waste by recycling it. A number of great things can come from this simple step in greening your holidays.