With Christmas less than two weeks away, it’s time to stop debating and make a decision about that Christmas tree. Every year, millions must choose between buying a real tree and opting for an artificial one. Some find a third option and build alternative trees out of glass bottles, cardboard, twigs and even books. But for the rest, the debate over real versus fake rages on.
Here are some factors to consider when making your own decision.
Catalogs are filled with options for purchasing artificial tress in all styles and sizes. Like a retro look? There’s a tree for that. Prefer the appeal of evergreen branches, lightly dusted with snow? A partially flocked faux tree will fit the bill. Hate untangling strings of lights? No problem. Pick one that is pre-lit.
Fake trees also have a couple of aesthetic advantages over the real deal. Generally, they are uniform in fullness — something advocates of real trees often regard as a disadvantage — and there are no bald spots to disguise. Depending on the amount of space you have for a tree, you can choose a full variety or a slim one. A selection of heights ensures that you can find a tree that suits your needs perfectly without guesswork.
When it’s time to decorate, you simply haul the tree storage box down from the attic and start putting the thing together. No trips to a half-dozen tree lots to find the right tree, with children begging for the biggest one possible and you keeping a tight grip on your wallet. No awkward drive home with the tree tied tenuously to the car roof, and no more tense “Watch out for the chandelier!” moments when you unload it and haul it to its final destination. No getting poked in the eye by pine or fir needles as you try to balance the tree in the stand and fill the reservoir with water.
And you won’t need to fret over the fate of Fido or Sylvester or another pet, who are at risk if they drink the water in the tree reservoir (think fertilizers, preservatives and other chemicals).
Most households reuse their artificial trees for a period of six to 10 years, so a faux tree can save money over time. And if you just have to have that fragrance of fresh-cut evergreens at holiday time, candles are a simple solution.
Environmentally, there is no contest: Real trees clobber fake trees when it comes to being green. That’s because artificial trees are made of plastic — polyvinylchloride, usually — and therefore manufactured out of petroleum byproducts.
Add the fact that most are manufactured in China and shipped across the globe to the United States and the carbon footprint of the fake tree skyrockets. The road trip for real trees from domestic farms to local lots is miniscule by comparison.
Even though they are reused, fake trees lose out again when you consider all of the carbon dioxide a single farm-grown Christmas tree takes out of the atmosphere in its seven-year average lifetime. If you figure 10 real trees over the lifespan of the fake tree, that’s 70 tree years of drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting it to oxygen. Meanwhile, the trees provide shelter and habitat for birds and wildlife.
It’s true that tree farms use chemical fertilizers and pesticides to produce their harvest, but the use of environmentally harmful products has declined over time and some growers now tout the organic practices they employ.
Another plus for real trees: They often have a second life after fulfilling their holiday duties.
Locally, thousands of trees are recycled and used for marsh restoration projects. Others may be chipped or ground up for mulch. And even if a real tree ends up in the landfill, it will biodegrade, which the artificial tree won’t do. Fake trees could be recycled theoretically, but there are just a handful of municipalities that provide this service.
Now that you have a checklist with pros and cons, which type of tree will you (or have you) put up this holiday season? Let us know and tell us why you chose as you did.
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.