Which tree is better for the environment – Real or Artificial? Science has finally revealed the truth about this annual debate. Loraas is here to discuss the pros and cons of both trees so that you can make the best decision for your household this holiday season.
Let’s begin with artificial trees. This product has been labelled as an “environmentally friendly” option compared to its natural counterpart because the consumer is able to reuse it annually. Researchers from Kansas State University suggests this as, “an urban myth.” Artificial trees are commonly made of PVC (#3 polyvinyl chloride) plastics and have the sole purpose of being used for one to two months during the holiday season. The key here is the PVC plastic, which is petroleum-derived. The fake tree is both non-renewable, creating pollution during the manufacturing and transportation process, and does not have any known recycling programs in Saskatchewan for when it is no longer usable or when it, “doesn’t look nice anymore”. While you can reuse the tree over instead of discarding it after a single-use, scientists suggest it would need to be reused 20 times before the negative environmental effects outweigh the positives (ZME Science, 2015).
Now for the real trees. Naturally, cutting this many trees over a short period of time can cause environmental problems, but is it worse than polluting? Natural trees used for the holiday season are grown as a crop and are replanted after they have been cut. Tree growth, on average, takes seven years to reach the average selling height and throughout this time requires multiple doses of water, fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides annually; not to mention some farmers use a chemical spray to enhance the tree’s colour. Another disadvantage is poor management of crops, which leads to degraded habitat and soil quality. The greatest drawback about natural trees is their lifespan; only being used for the holiday season over a short period of time. Yes, these trees are biodegradable and can be repurposed to prevent the above issues, however only in the proper “recycling” system – not in your blue recycling cart or bin. In addition, real trees are carbon-neutral and emissions can occur from farming activities and transportation. They are also more expensive than artificial trees since you need to purchase a new one every year (ZME Science, 2015).
The answer to what tree is better? Neither. Scientific testing has proven that both real and fake trees can have a negative impact on our environment, however, this depends on your length of use and disposal afterward. Science suggests that artificial trees have a slightly larger impact due to what these trees are made of and emissions that are released during the production process. However, cutting down natural trees, even if they are repurposed afterward, still has a carbon footprint. Allowing those trees to grow, in the long run, increases habitat, amplifies carbon sequestration, and more. In the end, the decision is yours. There are no options for “recycling” either type of tree. Real trees can be composted or repurposed into mulch for gardening purposes. Artificial trees, if gently used, can be sold or donated on an online buy and sell platform. If they are unusable, they should be broken down and discarded into a waste bin or taken directly to the landfill. So choose responsibly and ensure whatever tree you decide upon when it is discarded is done so properly.
ZME Science. 2015. Real vs Artificial Christmas trees: What science says? Accessed at: https://www.zmescience.com/other/feature-post/real-vs-artificial-christmas-tree-science-says/. Accessed on: 30 October 2018.