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Real or Fake (Christmas Trees)?

Christmas is near and as families arrange their homes according to holiday decor, the inevitable argument arises—real or artificial Christmas tree? Debates center on maintenance, price, or physical appeal. But more important than minuscule attributes is the environmental impact. Natural Christmas trees are better.

Each year, about 10 million fake trees are purchased near Christmas time. The climate concerns the center of transportation and chemical composition. First off, 90% of these artificial trees are shipped from China, which contributes to the transportation sector, 14%, of total greenhouse gas emissions. Meaning, the boating vessels, freight trucks, or planes that import those precious trees are actually emitting tons of methane and carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. Not to mention, the production of these plastic trees, which adds to industrial processes, or 16.8% of total emissions; includes the heating and cooling of the factory and electricity powering the machines and lighting of the building. 


On top of that, the material in artificial trees is polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC). These plastics are petroleum-based which are chemicals that support oil-drilling and petroleum industries. Not only do these institutions deprive limited resources and pollute our atmosphere, but PVC is linked to cancer and other public health issues. 


By purchasing an artificial tree, you prioritize appeal over climate compassion. According to the NRDC, a non-profit that works to protect our ecosystems from pollution, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics have been produced since the 1950s. Only 10% of these plastics are recyclable, plastic trees not being one of them. When these materials accumulate in our landfills, they do not decompose, but take up valuable natural space, release hazardous pollutants like methane, and contaminate our and animals' health. 


On the other hand, natural trees can do substantial good for the environment! Despite the assumption that cutting down Christmas trees is bad, deforestation definitely is, in actuality for every tree cut, farmers plant 1-3 seedlings in its place. Adding on out of 350-550 million trees growing on farms, only 30 million are harvested for Christmas annually. As a result, buying a Christmas tree encourages healthy forests. Each year of the seven years it takes to grow a Christmas tree, it will absorb tons of carbon dioxide—the number one greenhouse gas polluter in our atmosphere. 


In order for this environmental contribution to work, disposal matters. Do not abandon your tree on the curbside following Christmas morning (unless your state regulations explicitly say they will be properly recycled, Michigan, New York, etc) or burn it. Instead, visit your local sanitation service. In doing so, its decomposition contributes to habitat restoration or mulch. Both of which can contain erosion and support aquatic ecosystems.


If diluting dangerous pollutants and decreasing warming temperatures is not an incentive enough to purchase a natural Christmas tree this holiday season, then choose an artificial tree and reuse it for at least five years. This way, the environmental impact is equal, if not better than a real tree.

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