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Real Tree vs. Fake Tree: Which is the more sustainable option?

This post first appeared in our weekly Make Waves Mondays email series on December 7, 2020.

Friend, are you a real tree person, or a fake tree person?

There’s actually quite a lot of debate around this, and I get asked about it every year without fail.

A Drop in the Ocean Sustainable Living Zero Waste Shop Real Tree Fake Tree Which is More Sustainable

 

Fake trees are reusable. We can fold them up, put them in a box, and stow them away until next year. They’re super easy to set up, many already come pre-lit, and we’re not cutting anything down. And in the long run, they’re less expensive than a real tree.

In some regards, fake trees seem like the clear winner here.

But it’s not so cut-and-dry.

A Drop in the Ocean Tacoma Sustainable Living Zero Waste Shop Real or Fake Tree More Sustainable

On the hunt for the perfect tree.

A vast majority of fake trees are manufactured in China, and are therefore shipped around the world to make it into our homes each year. That’s a tonnnn of carbon emissions to ship those trees.

And, as you probably already know, fake trees are made from plastic. Typically PVC, a highly unrecyclable type of plastic that can actually release harmful toxins in the manufacturing process.

But what if you’re going to use that tree for many years to come? There’s not much agreement that I can find on this, but sources I’ve found show that a fake tree needs to be reused at least five to ten times to have a lower carbon footprint than a real tree. A 2010 study even suggests at least 20 years of reuse to offset the impact.

So what about real trees? Surely chopping down a bunch of trees every year can’t be great for the environment, right?

Well...maybe it is.

A Drop in the Ocean Tacoma Sustainable Living Zero Waste Shop Real or Fake Tree More Sustainable

My new tree friends.

Most Christmas trees are grown on farms, so we don’t have to hike up into the forest to chop down a wild-growing tree anymore. And these farms are typically on land that is otherwise unsuitable for crops, and keeps the land from being developed (and therefore is also a great home for local wildlife).

Trees are also a huge carbon sink - meaning they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it away. In the US, there are around 350 million trees currently growing on local farms in all 50 states. That’s a huge amount of carbon being sucked from our atmosphere.

What really struck me when I started digging into this debate, too, is that 1-3 seedlings are planted each year for every tree harvested. So we’re not just cutting down trees and leaving bare forests, we’re supporting local farmers, preserving green space, and continually replenishing and even growing these carbon sinks.

A Drop in the Ocean Tacoma Sustainable Living Zero Waste Shop Real or Fake Tree More Sustainable

I found my perfect tree!

And when it comes to disposal, even if that fake tree is reused for decades, at some point, it’s still going to end up in a landfill, whereas a real tree can be turned into mulch or composted at the end of the season - a process which is also a carbon sink.

Even better - if you live somewhere that is conducive to planting trees, you can actually buy potted trees that can be enjoyed indoors for the holiday season and then planted outdoors to continue to flourish.

So, all-in-all, real trees may be the better choice for the environment, especially if you’re getting them from a local farm and composting them at the end of the season.

However, if you already have a fake tree, please don’t toss it just to hop on the real tree wagon. That kinda defeats the purpose of reuse 😉

If you’re totally not into the idea of bringing a tree into your home, try to find a fake tree secondhand, or one that’s made in the USA (or wherever you live).

So, tell me, are you Team Real Tree or Team Fake Tree? We’ve got a live poll over in the EcoWarrior Pod Facebook group. Hop over there and let’s chat about it!

Happy celebrating, friend ❄

Sources
Going Zero Waste: Is A Real Or Fake Christmas Tree Better For The Environment?
National Christmas Tree Association: Quick Tree Facts
The Nature Conservancy: Real vs. Fake - Which Christmas tree is better for the environment?
The New York Times: Real vs. Artificial Christmas Trees: Which Is The Greener Choice?
The New York Times: How Green Is Your Artificial Christmas Tree? You Might Be Surprised

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