When it comes to trying to live a sustainable lifestyle, choices that seemed easy to previous generations can be much more problematic today. Trying to have an environmentally-friendly holiday season, for example, means making many important decisions.
Some are easy. Steer clear of using enormous amounts of paper to gift wrap. Don’t buy items that contain lots of plastic and cardboard in the packing materials. Use LED holiday lights rather than incandescent bulbs.
But, if you celebrate Christmas, what about the tree? Fake or real?
The Best Option
While opinions differ – and in the area of green living, opinions are often felt strongly and stated loudly – most agree that the best option is a real tree. But that’s true only if you do it properly.
The best method is to buy a tree from a local grower – a tree that still has its root system intact. Then, once the holidays are over, rather than disposing of the tree, instead replant it in the backyard.
Most trees these days are cultivated on a tree farm. The downside of this is that in most cases, pesticides are used on the trees. This can run off into ground water while it’s being grown and, if you don’t replant it, the same thing can happen while it’s in the landfill.
Still, if done properly, a real tree that is replanted can be the best choice for the environment. And if you can’t replant, then the next best choice is to have the tree picked up for mulching, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA suggests contacting your local city or county government and find out if they collect trees for mulching. Pieces from mulched trees are often used in civic projects such as on hiking trails or to battle beach erosion.
Fake Plastic Trees
The main issue with fake trees is the fact they are made with plastics, including some that contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Beyond what’s in the tree itself, the production of PVC can often lead to pollution in areas around the factory by carcinogens such as dioxin, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride.
Also, according to CBS News, about 90% of all fake Christmas trees are imported from China, leading to a larger carbon footprint because of the overseas shipping involved.
However, if you do, for whatever reason, have to get a plastic tree, then the right thing to do is to keep it for as long as possible. According to CBS, one scientific study reported the tree needs to be kept about 20 years to lessen the environmental impact.
A study from the American Christmas Tree Association, which represents businesses that sell both real and plastic trees, reported that a plastic tree reused for at least eight years is better for the environment than a real tree cut every year.
The bottom line is there is no one, clear cut way to approach combining sustainable living with a Christmas tree. However, if you follow the above suggestions, you can lessen the environmental impact whether you get a live or plastic tree.