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Real vs Fake: Breaking Down the Environmental Debate

By: Karis Fields


Photo: CNN – Source


With the holiday season upon us, many people have been scrambling to get Christmas trees up in their homes. There are some who are taking their artificial trees out from storage and others who traveled to get their real tree from a local Christmas tree farm.


Over the years, people have been divided over the debate on which tree they should purchase. The debate of real versus fake trees has become only more relevant today given the current rise to environmental awareness. Although it seems like an obvious debate, it’s actually more complicated than you think.


First, let’s look at the carbon footprint left by the two. According to The Carbon Trust, a rootless 2-metre tall Christmas tree that ends up being disposed of in a landfill leaves a carbon footprint of 16kg CO2. If a tree with roots has been properly disposed of through either bonfire burning, chipping, or replanted, then it leaves a carbon footprint of 3.5kg CO2. The Independent reports that an artificial tree leaves a carbon footprint worth over ten times more than a properly disposed real tree, around 40kg CO2. The source also reports that in order to make its environmental impact equivalent to that of a real tree which has been properly disposed of you would have to use the artificial tree up to at least ten years. Although this data leans towards the buying of a real tree leaving the lowest carbon footprint, the carbon footprint left by the process of moving it from the Christmas tree farm to the home is just as bad. At this point, it’s a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils.


Stepping away from the environmental aspects of the debate, let’s look at the basic pros and cons of each.


Financially, it’s better to buy an artificial tree. An artificial tree can be reused for many years. A real tree, however, only lasts for about a year. That, plus the price of a real tree that will only be used for the span of a month is much more costly than that of an artificial one.


In terms of installation, the point goes to the artificial tree as well. An artificial tree is much easier to install in the home than a real tree. Even after installing the real tree, you need to keep up with it. A real tree needs to be watered daily in order to keep it fresh and prevent it from causing house fires. With the artificial tree all you do is install it and that’s it.


Taking into consideration the recyclability of the two, the real tree is the winner. Real trees are biodegradable. They are also easily recyclable, with some recycling programs across the United States being solely dedicated to the recycling of Christmas trees. Once a real tree is done being used for Christmas, people will sometimes use its wood for bonfires or woodworking. People will also sometimes replant them. An artificial tree cannot be recycled or biodegraded.


In the great Christmas tree debate, both have very compelling cases to make. However, there is no clear winner here. Although a real tree is better for the environment in terms of its carbon footprint, an artificial tree is reusable and keeps the real ones from being chopped down. However, once the artificial tree has been used up, it can’t be recycled and creates environmental waste.


As mentioned before, it’s simply a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils.