As the holidays approach, there’s no shortage of talk about Christmas trees. But, of course, whether you’re buying a natural or synthetic tree is a personal choice. Still, if you want to make an informed decision, we’ve got everything you need to know right here!
Natural or Synthetic Tree?
Real trees are more sustainable, as artificial trees have a higher carbon footprint. However, artificial trees are less expensive (in the long run) and more accessible to transport.
The real question is, “What matters most to you?”
Spending less money?
Creating a smaller carbon footprint?
Or finding a balance between these two options?
Which should you choose?
As an eco-mama, I have to admit I am biased. However, this is a personal decision, so I want to share as many facts as possible, so you can decide what is best for your home and your family.
THE FACTS ABOUT SYNTHETIC CHRISTMAS TREES
Suppose you want a perfectly symmetrical tree that stands up straight every year without fail and is enticed by not unraveling a big ball of lights year after year. In that case, a pre-lit artificial tree might be a good fit for you. Plus, you have one up-front cost for a tree that lasts anywhere from 5 to 15 years. And, when it’s time to get the house for the New Year, all you have to do is unplug the tree, unscrew a few poles, neatly pack it back into its box and slide it into the attic for the next 11 months. No pine needles to vacuum, no boy scouts to pay for pick up, or no runs to the local dump to dispose of your tree.
Artificial might make more sense if you travel over the holidays but still enjoy the festive decorations while in town. After all, it does not require watering or fertilizers like their living counterparts do (which means less waste). Some even look like the real thing, but this feature usually comes at a premium cost.
Before you make a choice, though, there are a few downsides to these synthetic versions of the manmade forest we create in our homes each Christmas. First, most artificial trees are made of PVC, a not-so-good-for-you or environment plastic that takes 450 years to decompose. If you are not familiar with PVC, it is a manmade plastic, often containing phthalates, fire retardants, and lead.
CHEMICALS TO KNOW ABOUT IN ARTIFICIAL TREES
Phthalates are known indicative disruptors. They mimic vital hormones we depend on to deliver information to our bloodstream and tissues. Phthalates are commonly used to soften plastics. In artificial trees, it is what makes your pine needles so soft and huggable. However, the negative health impacts of this chemical should deter you from any cuddles with an artificial tree.
Flame retardant is another harmful chemical found in PVC. It has been known to cause cancers, decreased fertility in both men and women, compromised immune systems, hormone disruption, hyperactivity in children, and lower IQ for all. Plus, realize that what is bad for us is also bad for our fur babies.
Lastly, lead has been found to cause adverse health effects on children and adults, with no known ‘safe’ levels. While artificial trees contain a lower level of lead, they can still cause damage over time to both adults and pets, but even more so in children. The effects on our bodies linked to low levels of lead exposure include, but are not limited to, irreversible damage to brain development and damage to our kidneys and nervous systems.
Remember that you are not exposed to these chemicals by only touching your tree. However, they are easily dispersed into your home’s air, collecting with other dust sediments and compromising indoor air quality.
THE FACTS ABOUT REAL CHRISTMAS
A real tree is an excellent choice if you want to go the natural route. Real trees have a lower carbon footprint than synthetic ones and are more sustainable. They can easily be recycled or replanted in hopes that they will re-root. Or you can buy a smaller tree planted that can grow with your family over the years. You can keep it planted year-round outside and replant it into larger pots as the roots grow. Then move it back into your living room each year for Christmas’s annual festivities and celebrations. I have friends who started this tradition when their daughters were born. They love comparing how much their girls have grown compared to the tree each Christmas. This year marks the 14th anniversary of the Family Christmas tree.
There are also environmental benefits to choosing a real Christmas tree. This is an essential factor to consider, especially for those who don’t have easy access to recycling facilities, composting, or transportation for disposal.
The good news is that real trees are biodegradable and can be recycled. You can also chop them up, let them dry out, and season them for one year, then use them for firewood the following winter.
CONCERNS ABOUT REAL CHRISTMAS TREES
Real Christmas trees are most often purchased in the weeks leading up to the big day. These trees carry a higher annual cost than their synthetic counterparts, ranging from $55 to $225. The price for these trees varies. Size, variety, fullness, and even region affect the cost. Some justify the cost by replanting the tree to make it last longer or having peace of mind that it is the most eco-friendly option.
In terms of ongoing costs, however, real Christmas trees can prove more expensive than artificial ones. While you won’t need to buy a new tree every year as you would with a fake one, there are other costs associated with caring for your fresh-cut tree: watering it regularly; checking its branches for rot over time; having somewhere safe to store it when not in use throughout winter, and/or disposing of it at the end of winter.
More Pros and Cons
Here are a couple other facts to be aware of:
- Real trees absorb CO2 (a greenhouse gas) from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. In contrast, artificial trees use chemicals that produce CO2 when manufactured or disposed of after use.
- Real trees absorb water vapor from the air and release it back into the atmosphere through transpiration. In contrast, artificial trees do not perform this function.
Sustainability and the Carbon Footprint.
Real trees are biodegradable and can be recycled after their use. Artificial trees, however, aren’t biodegradable and cannot be recycled. This means you will have to dispose of them in your regular garbage bin as they will not decompose naturally in landfills like real Christmas trees. In addition, artificial Christmas trees are made from petroleum products which are non-renewable (meaning they can’t be replenished).
The impact of disposal on the Environment.
While it’s true that real trees are biodegradable, you might think they could be more environmentally sound. When a real tree is not disposed of properly or incinerated, in lieu of planting, recycling, or repurposing, it releases carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Artificial trees are not biodegradable and therefore don’t contribute to this problem. Still, they create a problem by polluting the earth and taking up space for nearly half a century. That’s five generations that one tree will be sitting in some dump. Furthermore, history has proven that we are a consumeristic society, searching for the newest and greatest. So, even if the artificial tree did not fall apart, it would likely be replaced instead of handed down to the next generation.
There are options for disposal with real trees, such as composting for use as a natural fertilizer, recycling, or repurposing using it as firewood. However, artificial trees only have one option when they have outlived their purpose, are thrown away and are tossed into the dump.
Tree Choice comes down to personal preference. Artificial trees are neater and more convenient, while real trees are more sustainable and have a less environmental impact.
The important thing to remember is that the choice comes down to personal preference. Artificial trees are neater and more convenient, while real trees are more sustainable and have a less environmental impact.
The choice is yours. We hope you have been provided with enough information to make the best decision for you and your family.
So, which one will it be? We would love to know what you choose and why.
Have a wonderful and Blessed week!