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Fake Versus Real Christmas Trees: Which is More Environmentally Friendly?

Fake xmas trees and artificial christmas trees

A fake or real green Christmas?

Fake Christmas trees — they’re no doubt the most convenient, quick (some even come with pre-installed lights), and clean way to go. But many people also think they’re more environmentally friendly than real trees too.

A story in The New York Times this weekend shines a light on the question of fake versus real Christmas trees. Apparently many of our most environmentally conscious are buying the fake ones on purpose (we’ve got 50 million in homes this year, as opposed to about 30 million real trees), assuming that they’re doing the planet a favor.

Here’s why they’re wrong:

Last year, an environmental consulting firm released the most definitive study to date on the fake tree debate and found that using real trees is significantly more environmentally friendly.  You would have to use a fake tree for 20 years to make it more green than a perennial tree.

The carbon emissions from a real tree are one third the emissions from a fake tree’s average six-year lifespan. And fake trees use PVC — a potential carcinogen.

Part of the reason people are misguided about Christmas trees and the environment is that we assume cutting down trees is inherently bad. But in fact Christmas tree lots are grown and maintained especially for this purpose, and those tree farms help carve out and protect green space and farm land where it might otherwise be developed.

Trees release oxygen and fix carbon, and that doesn’t change because they are chopped down and replaced every year. Right now there are about 400 million real trees in farms across the country. Real trees can be composted and mulched — last year New York City did this with over 150,000 real trees. Fake trees end up in the landfill.

Ride your bike to work if you can, reuse your grocery bags and the holiday wrapping paper from last year. But if you’re trying to go green this season, welcome a real tree into your home.

Image: flickr/futureshape

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