By BRUCE STEELMAN
Every Christmas, consumers are faced with a choice, whether to purchase a real or artificial Christmas tree. Advertisements are often biased based on the perspective of the organization sponsoring the product. Some of the advantages and disadvantages of using real vs. artificial trees are outlined below. The consumer should evaluate which product best suits their needs and values.
The cost of real and artificial trees is quite variable. Usually, artificial trees are a greater expense initially, but they can be reused in successive years. Most artificial trees are used for about 5 years before they are discarded. Real trees are generally less expensive than artificial trees, but a purchase is made on an annual basis. Whether one is more expensive than the other depends on how often the artificial tree is reused.
Most real trees are grown in the United States. Most artificial trees are manufactured in China and shipped to the United States.
Both real and artificial trees can be fire hazards. The artificial tree is composed of various plastics which are petroleum-based products and real trees are plant tissues that readily burn when dry. Overloaded electrical outlets and faulty wires are the most common causes of holiday fires, not the trees.
Artificial trees can be more convenient compared to real trees. Many artificial trees come with Christmas lights incorporated into the tree. Real trees must be set in a tree stand, watered, and can lose needles that must be vacuumed or swept. However, artificial trees are also time-consuming to setup, take down, box and store every year. Real trees are discarded (hopefully recycled) each year. Some people enjoy the naturalness of real trees, their fragrance, and family memories selecting and cutting down Christmas trees.
Real trees are biodegradable, renewable, recyclable and carbon neutral compared to artificial trees. Artificial trees are composed of nonrenewable metals and petroleum-based plastics that are not biodegradable or recyclable. Real trees absorb carbon dioxide when growing and release many nutrients to the soil when they are decomposing. Growers usually plant 2 or 3 seedlings for every tree that is harvested.
Although many real trees decompose in landfills, many communities have recycle programs which shred or chip trees to be used as mulch in parks, gardens or trails. Artificial trees cannot be recycled, do not decompose, and end up taking space in landfills.
Growing of real trees uses herbicides to control competing vegetation that may interfere with the growth of the trees and pesticides to control harmful insects such as beetles, borers, weevils and moths. These chemicals are closely monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where they are tested, approved and registered. The use of these chemicals for growing Christmas trees is not that different from growing any other agronomic crop. The residues from pesticides are short-lived and biodegrade within a few months. Christmas trees usually take 6 to 9 years to grow to salable size. Artificial trees are manufactured from metals and petroleum-based plastics. These products can contain lead and other substances that can be harmful to the environment and to people during the manufacturing process.
Save a Tree promotes the use of artificial trees instead of real trees. The intent of the promotion is to provide the message that cutting trees is detrimental to the environment. Christmas trees do not come from the natural forest, but come from a farm where someone plants and cares for them. If there was not a market for Christmas trees, that land would probably be in some other agricultural, residential or industrial land use rather than growing trees. The Save a Tree campaign often resonates with those who are concerned about the environment, but are otherwise uninformed about how trees are grown and cultured. The box containing the artificial tree is made from cardboard and paper that comes from cutting trees. Are trees actually being saved?
The choice of whether to purchase a real or artificial tree is based on personal preference, cost, convenience (usually time expended), environmental considerations, and personal value or enjoyment. Both real and artificial trees have benefits and shortcomings. Be informed about all aspects of real and artificial trees during your Christmas purchase.