Dec 18, 2010

Real or Fake? The Sustainable Christmas Tree Dilemma


excerpts from NYTimes article

How Green Is Your Artificial Christmas Tree? You Might Be Surprised

By JOHN COLLINS RUDOLF

Well over 50 million artificial Christmas trees will grace living rooms and dens this season, according to the industry’s main trade group, compared to about 30 million real trees. The millions of people buying fake trees might not be doing the environment any favors.

In the most definitive study of the perennial real vs. fake question, an environmental consulting firm in Montreal found that an artificial tree would have to be reused for more than 20 years to be greener than buying a fresh-cut tree annually. The calculations included greenhouse gas emissions, use of resources and human health impacts.

“The natural tree is a better option,” said Jean-Sebastien Trudel, founder of the firm, Ellipsos, that released the independent study last year.

The annual carbon emissions associated with using a real tree every year were just one-third of those created by an artificial tree over a typical six-year lifespan. Most fake trees also contain polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which produces carcinogens during manufacturing and disposal.

Over all, the study found that the environmental impact of real Christmas trees was quite small, and significantly less than that of artificial trees — a conclusion shared by environmental groups and some scientists.

“You’re not doing any harm by cutting down a Christmas tree,” said Clint Springer, a botanist and professor of biology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “A lot of people think artificial is better because you’re preserving the life of a tree. But in this case, you’ve got a crop that’s being raised for that purpose.”

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