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The Christmas Tree Conundrum: Real or Artificial?

For people who use real Christmas trees, the question comes up each year—should they switch to artificial? Our general rule is that reusable is better than disposable, but in this case, it’s not that simple.

The consensus (based on at least one peer-reviewed study) is that real trees are the way to go.

Artificial trees are:

  • responsible for more carbon emissions in production and shipping (usually from China)
  • made of PVC, which releases dioxins in the manufacturing process and disposal
  • eventually sent to the landfill

Real trees, on the other hand:

In fact, an artificial tree would have to be used for 20 years before its carbon emissions were better than real trees.

My Charlie Brown Christmas tree

Personally, I have a knee-high fake tree that my sister gave me for my dorm room when I first went to college. I’m pretty attached to it, and I figure that since its impact comes mostly from manufacturing and delivery, the longer I continue to use it the better. But when it eventually kicks the bucket, I’ll switch to real trees.

Most articles on this topic end by saying something about buying a live potted tree. Don’t do it! Where in the world is it cold enough to be a native evergreen habitat and at the same time warm enough to plant a tree in the middle of winter? We were given a tiny potted Christmas tree once that promptly died. Determined to prove our green thumbs, we got another one the next year, and it died, too. It can’t be planted outdoors in December, it can’t survive in the house, and if it’s outdoors in a pot, it freezes through. Seriously, I challenge anyone who has ever successfully replanted a potted Christmas tree to prove me wrong.

Cross posted on the Cambridge Energy Alliance blog.


Comment from Mike T.
Time December 16, 2009 at 10:17 pm

Emmet Otter’s dad’s solution was to only bring in the Christmas Branch, so the tree could live another year.

He was a snake oil salesman, though, so he wasn’t exactly a role model. Who would want to oil a snake?

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Time December 17, 2009 at 6:57 am

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Comment from Brenda Pike
Time December 22, 2009 at 9:07 am

I still don’t understand your love of that movie, but Emmet Otter’s dad was smart…

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