Christmas tree choice: Fake, real or alternative?

Fake, real, or alternative Christmas tree?A few years ago I pondered getting a fake Christmas tree.

Poor real trees.

All that water, energy and waste for a few weeks of my simple pleasure.  A fake tree would help eliminate repeated applications of pesticides and fertilizers that leak into local watersheds.

A reusable tree would not become discarded waste. It all added up to eco-friendliness.

Or does it? The Real vs. Fake Debate

Fake Christmas trees are made with polyvinyl chloride. PVC, or vinyl, is one of the most offensive forms of non-renewable, petroleum-derived plastic. Some artificial trees actually come with warning labels due to their lead content.

Eighty-five percent of fake Christmas trees are made in China, where environmental policies and employee conditions raise eyebrows. The real tree industry employs approximately 100,000 people here in the U.S.

Finally, fake trees will never biodegrade. That’s millions of artificial trees left in attics for all eternity.  Real trees serve as temporary wildlife refuges, mulch or firewood. We hang bird feeders on ours until spring.

Environmental watchdogs say the debate is over. Bill Ulfelder, Nature Conservancy, finds that nine real trees are left to mature for every one that is sold. “There are about 12,000 tree farms in the U.S. that are growing about 400 million trees right now. So there are actually more Christmas trees than there are people living in the U.S.”.

That’s a lot of carbon dioxide absorption.

If you are interested, check out more information at National Geographic, Sierra Club, or the National Christmas Tree Association (yeah, there apparently is one).

Greener Tree Alternatives

If you wish for an eco-friendlier tree this year, try the following:

Shop locally. Local tree farms and/or landowners often allow people to cut their own tree. Saves on gas and you know it’s fresh!

Buy a certified organic or live tree. More growers are starting to sell pesticide-free trees or those with intact root balls to replant after the holidays. You may have to dig deeper into your wallet or live in a climate where replanting a tree in January isn’t impossible.

Get original. Get crafty. Originally, artificial trees were made from dyed goose or swan feathers. Don’t pluck a swan from the local park, but do channel your inner Martha. There are plenty of fabrics and reusable materials in your own home to make a “tree”.

Decorate a large houseplant.  Will you spend most of your holidays traveling? Then ask yourself if you really need a tree this year. Back when I spent more holidays out of my home, I would decorate the largest plant in my apartment. Festive, and the plant feels important.

A real tree may not be the most environmentally perfect decision, but it is my tree of choice. The family tradition, the aromatherapy and the magic it brings into our living room outweigh my concerns.

If tree decorating is your tradition, what kind of tree will you put up this year?

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About Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson is a freelance writer with nearly 20 years of experience in community health education, non-profit program management and mental health counseling. Amy works on projects that promote greener, healthier living through pragmatic approaches. She is an avid fan of reality therapy, small town farmers markets and dishing out home cooking with unsolicited advice. You can also follow Amy’s adventures in realistic wellness.

  • Good Girl Gone Green

    I vote for a real organic tree or like you said a small potted plant! I love that there are some tree farms that sell the trees with the roots and all. You either replant the tree or you give it back and they replant it or they use it the following year-love this idea! Great post!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks G4! Do you know if the organic trees are that much more expensive?

  • It Lives!

    We are on the live tree tradition at our house. May cost a bit more but we then have the tree outside right after Christmas as a hanger for winter birdfeeders. We always pick a native tree – Pinon Pine here in NM.  We then have found friends with the space to plant it and spend the day with them as the ground thaws in the spring having a diggin and plantin party. Albuquerque also offers a service wherein our Open Space department will pick up our live tree and plant it on city property. We figure that our desert mountains could use more trees so it seems worth it.

  • Kathryn Grace

    We have always had live trees or none at all. Now that we live in a small apartment, we buy a small potted tree every year and give it to friends or family who have a yard and want another tree. Last year, I gave our tree to someone on Freecycle who months later wrote to thank me once again for her beautiful tree.

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