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The Christmas Tree Debate

What's the most sustainable choice for the holiday, a real tree or a fake tree?

As if we didn't have enough to worry about in December, another thing that always seems to creep up this time of year is the real vs. artificial Christmas tree debate.

For a "green" do-gooder, this can be a difficult question to tackle: chop down a living, carbon-sucking tree just for a few weeks of enjoyment, or buy a fake one that's full of the detestable polyvinyl chloride (PVC)?

On the one hand, cutting down a tree (or purchasing a pre-cut one) supports local business and agriculture. According the the National Christmas Tree Association, there are over 15,000 Christmas tree farms that employ over 100,000 people full or part-time in the U.S. Real trees are also a renewable resource, and for every one tree harvested, there are usually one to three seedlings planted the following spring.

On the other hand, nice artificial trees are intended to last for ten or more years (some manufacturers boast a warranty of 50 years!) Though they may be produced using less-than-desirable chemicals, it only happens once, as opposed to the annual pesticide applications that many real trees undergo.

Until recently, however, this hasn't been a debate that's extended much beyond one's willingness to clean up pine needles. But when tree growers realized that artificial trees were in more than half of tree-displaying homes in the U.S., they decided to fight back. Through heavy marketing, they've managed to turn purchasing a Christmas tree into an act of political expression.

There is another option that's gained popularity over the past few years, and though it's not for everyone, it alleviates many of the concerns in the real vs. fake debate.

Potted, or living, trees provide all the environmental benefits of a real tree, but without the guilt of chopping it down. The tree is essentially a large house plant, and the root system is kept intact and covered by burlap and a large container. Once the tree has served it's Christmas duty, it can be re-planted outdoors in your own yard, or donated someplace else to be re-planted. Living trees do require a bit more planning and care and should only be kept indoors for a week or two.

Regardless of what tree you have or whether you have one at all–have a very happy holiday season.

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