Few things kindle the holiday spirit in a store or business like a decorated tree. But if you’re an eco-minded business owner, you might wonder: What’s the greener option – real or fake? The answer is not very clear-cut.
On one hand, fake trees are typically produced in factories in Asia and usually contain oil-derived, pollution-causing polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. Plus, fake trees may contain unsafe levels of lead, and will ultimately end up in landfills, since they’re not biodegradable. Retailers and distributors use lots of fuel transporting them thousands of miles over the ocean and then on trucks to the stores where they’re bought.
On the other hand, once you factor in all the water, pesticides and energy used to grow, chop down and transport real trees from tree farms, they aren’t exactly so eco-friendly either. Plus, you have to get a real tree every year, so all of that energy and water use multiplies over the years. (Real trees, do, however, absorb carbon dioxide and can be recycled into wood chips.)
There’s plenty of debate over which is the greener choice: The National Christmas Tree Association, a trade group for tree growers, argues – naturally — that real trees are better because they are all natural. The American Christmas Tree Association – a trade group of artificial tree makers – argues just the opposite. They contend that fake trees, when used for many years, have an overall lower carbon footprint.
What it generally comes down to is this: Where does your tree come from, and how is it grown or made? How many years will you be using the fake tree? If you will use a fake tree for more than a decade, it may be the greener solution since you won’t have to replace it year after year. If you already own a fake tree, you might as well keep using it – the environmental toll has already been taken.
Of course, there are other considerations to the tree decision beyond the environmental. Real trees become a fire hazard if they dry out, so you may not be able to keep a real tree up as long as a fake tree. Real trees will generally be more expensive and time-consuming to set up, take care of and discard than fake ones that you can easily store in the closet or basement.
If you do decide a fake tree is the better option, buy one secondhand. (There are lots for sale on Craigslist.) As this DailyGreen article notes, there are also U.S.-made holiday trees that use recycled PVC and therefore aren’t so environmentally detrimental.
If you opt for a real tree, look for local tree farms that use sustainable or organic growing practices, such as “no spray” (meaning no pesticides). LocalHarvest.org lets you search for ones in your area by city or ZIP code.