If you celebrate Christmas, you probably decorate one or more trees and display them in your home, shop or place of business. Do you use artificial trees or live cut real ones? Do you wonder which is better – financially and ecologically?
According to a New York Times article last December, there are a bunch of us that have artificial trees – me included.
Why I Bought an Artifical Tree
For me, an artificial tree made sense when I bought it in 1996:
- I was getting older and could no longer muscle a 7 foot tree onto the top of a car (being only 5’4” tall doesn’t help either).
- Our nest was emptying out with the kids going off to school so the fact that they wanted a live tree became less important to me.
- The fire hazard was (and is) much less than with a live tree.
- We wanted to leave the tree up longer and an artificial one wouldn’t dry out.
- We were tired of spending $40 – $50 a year on trees.
- It was convenient to already have a tree.
- There was a significant upfront cost – I paid $200.
- Finding a place to store it all year is still difficult.
- The tree has no good pine smell.
- How the heck do I dispose of it?
We Saved Money With Our Artificial Tree
We have used this tree for 15 years now. The financial impact was positive on our family. Assuming we paid $40 a year for a tree for 15 years, we would have spent $600, an overall savings for us of $400 up through this year.
Disposal and Environmental Impact
However, even artificial trees wear out and this one is starting to go (the very top is getting wobbly). Since I am now wondering how to dispose of it when it is finally no good anymore, I got to wondering what the overall environmental impact of an artificial tree is.
Most artificial trees are made of metal and contain PVC which exudes carcinogens during manufacture. Furthermore, most trees are made in China and have to be shipped over, causing additional carbon emission damage. According to most sources, such as Enviro News and Business there is no good way to re-cycle artificial trees (sounds like a business opportunity!). However, over a period of several years, artificial trees can be cheaper.
Living trees are grown through out Canada and North America as crops, providing green spaces near cities along with carbon eating capacity. In addition, some trees are grown close to where they are used, lowering the transportation carbon emitted. Obviously trees can be composted and used in other re-cycle situations, so they don’t sit in land fills for years as artificial
ones do. On the down side, tree farms are not usually pesticide free – normally doing repeated applications over the 7 – 10 years it takes to grow a sale sized tree. In addition, live trees sometimes are shipped significant distances to their final purchase place and can be more expensive over the long run than artificial trees.
Ellipsos (a Montreal environmental consulting firm) did a study in 2009 in which they claim that there is a significant environmental advantage to using a live Christmas tree over an artificial one, but that after using the artificial one for 20 or more years, the impact evens out. The study assumed that the trees would be used close to where grown. If that weren’t the case, then they concluded that the advantage narrowed considerably.
Now that I have done a bit of research on artificial vs real Christmas trees, I still don’t know of a good way to dispose of the fake one! I do know now though, that if I want additional trees (and I do occasionally put one up on the porch outside) – I will get out the saw and go cut down one of our teenage cedar trees (the ones that keep popping up like weeds on our acreage). If I should want another fake tree, I WILL be shopping for a gently used one instead of supporting new production. Still, the artificial ones do save us money and are more convenient for us.
Someday soon, some smart person will figure out how to make a bio-degradable artificial tree that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and then this debate might be put to rest.
Which side of the great Christmas Tree debate are YOU on, and why?
This article was written by Marie.