‘Tis the season, so we’re all digging out the tinsel, detangling the strings of lights and thinking of ways to distract the cat. All that’s still needed is the tree. So, you’re probably thinking of driving out to a tree farm: natural is always better, right? “Not necessarily,” the experts say. “Wait,” you might ask. “Are artificial Christmas trees more eco-friendly than real ones, then?” Let’s look at the lowdown to find the answer.
The Lowdown on Real Trees
One of the biggest reasons people think of real Christmas trees as eco-friendly is that they’re biodegradable. Once the holiday season is over, you just throw out the tree, and nature will take care of it: at least, that’s what happens if you first chip it and dispose of it correctly. If it just ends up in the landfill, it produces methane gas as it decomposes: to a CO2 equivalent of 16 kg for a tree that’s 2 m tall, according to the Carbon Trust.
There’s also the matter of where the tree comes from. Intense, unsustainable farming methods can actually be bad for the environment: they can cause a loss of biodiversity as they displace the natural ecosystems that were there before. This is an even bigger problem if the farm doesn’t use natural ways to keep pests out. “Wild-harvested” trees aren’t the answer either: that’s just another word for deforestation and all the problems that come with it, like chopping down certain tree species to the verge of extinction and destroying the homes of birds, insects and other woodland critters.
The Lowdown on Artificial Trees
So when it comes to comparing real versus fake Christmas trees, are artificial trees the better option? Yes and no.
Artificial indoor trees are versatile enough for all the latest holiday trends because they’re usually made of plastic that will take hundreds of years to fully decompose. And then we’re not even talking about the humongous carbon footprint of producing that plastic in the first place. However, you’ll probably reuse that tree next year and the year after that. Considering the average artificial tree has a carbon footprint of about 40 kg CO2, after a little over four years of use, the carbon footprint will be the same as if you’d left a real tree in the landfill. If you buy a tree of such high quality that you can use it for many years to come, it will have been the better choice, at least in terms of carbon footprint. By the time the tree is too tatty to use anymore, new technology may have found a way to safely dispose of it.
What’s the Alternative?
It’s clear that there are too many factors at play to say without a doubt whether it’s better to get an artificial Christmas tree or a real one. So why not try alternatives?
The most eco-friendly Christmas tree there is is one of the native plants you already have growing in your garden. Simply add some LED lights, and voilà!
But let’s be realistic: nobody wants to open presents outside in a Canadian winter. The solution? Get a live potted tree. You won’t be killing a tree or destroying an ecosystem to make your home smell like Christmas all year long. With wildfires and severe frost having already wreaked havoc on the supply of farmed trees – and the outlook for the future not looking much better – you won’t ever have to worry about the Great Christmas Tree Shortage. Just keep the cat distracted.
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