Fake or real?

I grew up with an artificial Christmas tree. In fact, my parents bought their tree the year after I was born and used it until a few years ago, when they replaced it with a newer model—one that comes apart into three pieces (instead of fifty) and is prelit with strings of lights.

Jan grew up with real Christmas trees in his house, and that’s the tradition we’ve maintained in our own home. We love the smell of real fir and don’t mind having to vacuum fallen needles (not too much of a problem if the tree is kept well watered, actually). And Sylvia loves our annual ritual of going to the local cut-your-own tree farm. We drive past that place frequently throughout the year, and each time we do she calls out to it in passing, “Hi, Christmas tree farm! See you in December!”

Before we headed out to get our tree last week, Jan and I wondered, briefly, if an artificial tree would be a better choice. The advantage of prelit over wrestling-with-light-strings are pretty obvious, but we weren’t sure about the environmental cost. We decided to table the issue for this year at least, until we’d had more time to look into it, and headed off to the tree farm.

As it turns out, we made the correct choice, environmentally speaking—at least according to an article that appeared in The New York Times last Friday.

In the most definitive study of the perennial real vs. fake question, an environmental consulting firm in Montreal found that an artificial tree would have to be reused for more than 20 years to be greener than buying a fresh-cut tree annually. The calculations included greenhouse gas emissions, use of resources and human health impacts. . . . .

Over all, the study found that the environmental impact of real Christmas trees was quite small, and significantly less than that of artificial trees — a conclusion shared by environmental groups and some scientists.

6 Responses to “Fake or real?”

  1. Shannahon 19 Dec 2010 at 11:59 pm

    We chose artificial based on our preference for all things tacky Christmas. Not nearly as noble. ;-)

  2. Pshortenon 20 Dec 2010 at 10:12 am

    We adopted an artificial tree that was headed for the landfill a few years ago…so I think we’ve come out ahead on the environmental impact. We reused and thus reduced our holiday footprint! I love the idea of cutting a fresh tree each year but with the kids grown up and gone, the reality is; it would just be a hassle. Thus, I will enjoy the trees at other folks houses.

  3. MACon 20 Dec 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Alas, artificial is the only choice for those of us with evergreen allergies. However, we really might keep ours for 20 years (we’re on Christmas #7 with the same tree), so it might wind up being a wash. The artificial tree we had before that one was a hand-me-down, so I don’t feel too guilty.

  4. Marshaon 20 Dec 2010 at 10:34 pm

    @Shannah: You would have loved the tree I had growing up. It was the gaudiest one on the block: tinsel garland; lights of different sizes, colors, and blink rates; huge bubble lights; and a blinking star on top. It was awesome. :)
    In general, I think the idea is that if you’re currently treeless, then going with a fresh tree is environmentally ideal. (Though I bet the environmental benefits might not be as present in a place like Florida or Texas, where trees have to be trucked in from quite a distance.) But if you already have a fake tree, then sticking with it is a good bet.

  5. JDon 23 Dec 2010 at 6:18 pm

    I have been missing our childhood artificial tree: wooden post painted silver, with tinseled ‘branches’ that each had their own sleeve. Putting the tree together each year was a hassle, but I remember it now as a kinda cool thing.

    Thanks for passing on the info in the NYT article; I’ll be sure to pass it along to my brother, who worried about that this year (they got a real tree, too).

    Even though I don’t have much of a green thumb, I’m in favor of a potted evergreen to maintain throughout the year and bring indoors and decorate at Christmas. My brother got a wee one this year; we’ll see if it survives!

  6. Marshaon 27 Dec 2010 at 4:44 pm

    @JD: I love the idea of a potted tree, but we don’t really have room to plant any more trees in our yard. I’ve heard that SoCal now has several “rent-a-potted-tree” businesses: they bring you a potted tree and take it away (and plant it outside) at the end of the Christmas season. You can even reserve the same tree each year. What an awesome idea!