It’s the age old question, especially as we draw closer to Christmas; should you buy a real Christmas tree or a fake one? These days, with the controversy surrounding global warming, most people would presume that getting a fake tree is helping the environment, but is this correct? Actually there are some environmentalists that would argue buying real trees are the better choice. There is a case for fake trees, because they are re-used every year and therefore don’t generate the waste of their real counterparts. But fake trees are made with polyvinyl chloride (or PVC, otherwise known as vinyl), which is one of the most environmentally offensive forms of non-renewable, petroleum-derived plastic. So which is best? For me, there is nothing like walking into your home and smelling the woody pine scent of a real Christmas tree. But here are the debates for and against real and fake trees.
First of all, a fake tree is usually made from plastic, which is derived from oil, a non-renewable resource. When plastic trees are produced, several known carcinogens, including dioxin, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride are generated during the production of PVC. This pollutes nearby neighbourhoods that are located near the production sites. Around 85% of fake trees are made in China and labour standards are not adequate in protecting the workers who handle the dangerous chemicals. Moreover, PVC is quite rigid so to make them more malleable, lead and other additives are added. These additives have been linked to liver, kidney, neurological and reproductive system damage in lab studies on animals. However, plastic trees are typically only bought once in around every ten years and do not take up the amount of farming space the real trees do.
A real tree is a renewable resource and it can be recycled as mulch, compost, or wildlife shelter, whereas the fake tree can’t. The real tree does not contain harmful chemicals, whereas fake trees do. The real tree also absorbs carbon dioxide while it grows, therefore helping to combat global warming. It is a mistake to think that using real trees causes deforestation. The fact is, real trees are farmed, often on marginal land that can’t be used for other purposes. There are downsides however. As real trees are farmed as agricultural products, they often require repeated applications of pesticides over their typical eight-year lifecycles. Therefore, while they are growing, and then again once they are discarded, they may contribute to pollution of local watersheds. And they have to be shipped overseas which contributes to global warming by using energy for travelling.
In conclusion, our recommendation is to buy a live real tree, with roots from a local grower, which you can keep growing in a pot and use time and time again every year. This way you can plant it out in the garden after the party season is over and then bring it back indoors when Christmas comes around. Make sure that you buy a tree that will survive in this climate and, since trees are dormant in the winter, live trees should spend no more than a week indoors lest they “wake up” and begin to grow again in the warmth of your home. If this happens there is a good chance the tree will not survive once it is returned to the cold winter outdoors and replanted.