Christmas 2022: Are Natural Or Artificial Christmas Trees Better For Environment, Climate Change?
NEW YORK CITY– It’s that time of year when most Americans are eating up Thanksgiving leftovers and heading out in search of the best holiday deals. More importantly, they plan for their seasonal centerpiece: the Christmas tree.
While some enjoy the scent of a real tree and the joy of picking one at a local farm, others prefer the simplicity of artificial trees to reuse for upcoming Christmases.
But consumers are becoming more climate conscious, and considering which tree will have the least impact on our rapidly warming planet has become a key part of holiday decisions. Choosing an eco-friendly tree will likely put you on Santa’s good list.
So which type of tree has the lowest carbon footprint – a natural tree or a store-bought plastic tree? It’s complicated, experts say.
“It’s definitely a lot more nuanced and complex than you think,” Andy Finton, director of landscape conservation and forest ecologist at the Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, told CNN.
Here is a list of things you should know before deciding between real and fake.
The case for artificial trees
It’s easy to imagine that reusing an artificial tree year after year is the more sustainable option. But Finton says that if an artificial tree is used for six years – the average time people keep it – “the carbon cost is definitely higher” than a natural tree.
“When the artificial trees are used for a longer lifespan, that balance changes,” Finton told CNN. “And I read that it would take 20 years for the carbon balance to be roughly equal.”
That’s because artificial trees are typically made of polyvinyl chloride plastic, or PVC. Plastic is petroleum based and produced in polluting petrochemical plants. Studies have also linked PVC plastic to cancer and other public health and environmental risks.
Then there is the transport aspect. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, most artificial Christmas trees are imported into the U.S. from China, meaning the products are shipped across the Pacific by fossil-fuel-powered ships and then hauled by heavy trucks before finally hitting retailer’s shelves land or at the consumer’s doorstep.
The American Christmas Tree Association, a non-profit organization representing manufacturers of artificial trees, commissioned WAP Sustainability Consulting to conduct a study in 2018 that found that the environmental impact of an artificial tree is better than that of a real tree if you use the use artificial tree for at least five years.
“Artificial trees were examined (in the study) for factors such as manufacturing and overseas transportation,” Jami Warner, executive director of ACTA, told CNN. “Planting, fertilization and irrigation were taken into account on real trees, which have an approximate field crop life of seven to eight years.”
What are the advantages of real trees?
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, it takes an average of seven years for a Christmas tree to fully grow. And as it grows, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the air. Protecting forests and planting trees can help stave off the worst effects of the climate crisis by removing planet-warming gas from the atmosphere.
When trees are felled or burned, they can release the carbon they have stored back into the atmosphere. But Doug Hundley, spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association, which campaigns for real trees, says felling Christmas trees on a farm is offset if farmers immediately plant new seedlings to replace them.
“When we harvest or cut down the trees, we replant them very quickly,” Hundley said.
If the idea of hiking through a forest to find the perfect tree is intriguing, you can purchase a permit from the US Forest Service, which encourages people to cut down their own tree rather than buying an artificial one. According to Recreation.gov, cutting down thin trees in dense areas can improve forest health.
But Finton doesn’t recommend pulling a Clark Griswold and chopping down a massive tree to haul it home — especially if it’s in an area you don’t have a permit for. Instead, he recommends buying a tree from a local farm.
“For me, the advantage of going to a Christmas tree farm, which is different than cutting down a tree in the forest, is that the effects of removing trees are concentrated in one place,” he said. “And it puts the responsibility on farmers to regenerate those trees.”
There is also an economic benefit to going natural, as most of the trees that people end up getting are grown on nearby farms. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, around 15,000 farms in the US alone grow Christmas trees and employ over 100,000 people full-time or part-time in the industry.
“By buying a natural Christmas tree, we’re supporting the local economy, local communities, local farmers, and to me that’s an important part of the conservation equation,” Finton said. “If an arborist can derive economic benefits from their land, they are less likely to sell it for development and less likely to convert it for other uses.”
Trees pile up on curbs after the holidays, and the ultimate destination in many places is landfill, where they contribute to emissions of methane — a potent greenhouse gas that’s about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
“It is strongly discouraged that real Christmas trees end up in landfills,” Hundley said, adding that there must be “separated areas for garden waste where Christmas trees can be disposed of.”
But some cities are repurposing the trees to help the climate and the environment. In New York City, trees left on curbs for a period of time are collected to be recycled or composted. The city’s sewage authority also hosts an initiative called MulchFest, where residents can chop their trees for mulching and use as food for other trees around the city.
“Once the tree is ready and ready for use by the homeowner, it’s very easy, and common in America, to chop the tree up into mulch — and the stored carbon is put back into the soil,” Hundley added.
Finton also says former Christmas trees can be repurposed for habitat restoration; They can help control erosion when placed along stream and river banks, and can even help underwater habitats thrive when placed in rivers and lakes.
The end of life of an artificial tree looks very different. They end up in landfills — where they can take hundreds of years to decompose — or in incinerators, where they release dangerous chemicals.
The final result
When weighing the complicated pros and cons of climate, real Christmas trees come out on top. But if you choose to decorate your halls artificially, get yourself a tree that you will love and use for years to come.
Either way, Finton said, people should be happy with their decision and find other ways to deal with the climate crisis.
“It’s a debate, but once you’ve made a decision, you should feel good about your decision, because there are so many other things we can do in our lives that have an even bigger impact on the climate – like to Like driving less or supporting policies that expand renewable energy,” Finton said. “Enjoy the holidays and focus on other aspects of your life to help reduce the impact of climate change.”
https://abc7.com/christmas-tree-climate-environment-artifical/12492899/ Christmas 2022: Are Natural Or Artificial Christmas Trees Better For Environment, Climate Change?