By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
‘Tis the season for the green debate over Christmas trees as the $2.5 billion industry begins to sell roughly 48 million real and fake trees in the U.S., based on last year’s statistics.
The American Christmas Tree Association (which represents the artificial tree industry) says the greenest choice is to buy a fake tree. The National Christmas Tree Association (which represents tree growers) says the best choice is real.
To go fake...
We asked some experts, scoured the web, and came up with what we hope will be an unbiased guide.
So first the fake tree: It sounds good, right? A one-time purchase that doesn’t involve cutting down trees – and one that can be reused for years. The American Christmas Tree Association commissioned a study that says (surprise!) a consumer buying an artificial Christmas tree had a smaller carbon footprint over a ten-year use period than buying live trees.
You can guess what the National Christmas Tree Association says.
But it seems the experts agree with the farmers.
Artificial trees are manufactured with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which does not break down in the environment. Lead is sometimes used as a stabilizer in the plastic. The trees are shipped from China (which means a lot more greenhouse gases to get them here) and they tend to last, on average, about six years.
Respected environmental blogs such as treehugger.com say while farmers can use pesticides on tree farms, it is still best to buy a live tree, in part because the trees can be mulched – and farmers tend to replant the trees they cut down, resulting in a more carbon neutral enterprise. To find out how to treecycle go to http://earth911.com/blog/2007/12/26/treecycling-made-simple/
“For the environmentally conscious consumer, a live Christmas tree is preferable to artificial,” said Clint Springer, a botanist at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in a press release about the subject. He says that the live tree purchase also injects money into the economy – and everyone knows we need that now.
Some people say the answer is to buy trees that can be replanted, but it’s not always that easy to do if the ground is cold – and don’t forget the tree can grow tens of feet tall.
In the end, you can always decorate a potted plant, but between live and fake trees, live wins.
And if you are feeling really adventurous, go to
http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/white_mountain/news/2008/1228284000-1228312039-03-Dec-2008.php. For $5 and armed with a sharp ax, you can cut a tree yourself in the White Mountain National Forest.