It is not easy to answer this question. In order to make an informed decision, certain factors must be compared.
Here are some key questions to consider:
- What are the raw materials used to produce a natural tree and an artificial tree?
- How much energy does the production and transport of each type of tree consume?
- How much polluted air and water results?
- What do we do with the tree when it comes time to dispose of it?
People are increasingly opting to decorate a potted plant or purchase a potted (locally sourced) Christmas tree that they replant after the holidays. If this option is not what you want, here are the aspects to consider when deciding between buying a natural tree or an artificial tree.
ProductionThe majority of artificial Christmas trees are produced overseas and purchasing products made outside of Canada does not help to the smooth running of our economy. Most manufactured trees travel thousands of kilometers before reaching Canadian consumers and this journey requiresfuel.
Habitat degradation and air pollution are among the negative effects that the production of artificial Christmas trees can cause. The production and manufacture of artificial trees consumes fossil fuels – a non-renewable resource – and oil is the main ingredient in plastic Christmas trees. Extracting fossil fuels can disrupt the local environment and burning them causes air pollution, smog and acid rain.
UseArtificial Christmas trees are reusable – a good quality tree can last for many years if properly handled and stored.
DisposalThe plastic and metal used to make most artificial trees cannot be sorted, making recycling impossible. Therefore, they must be sent to landfill or incinerated once they become unusable. Artificial trees contain non-biodegradable materials and they will not decompose in a landfill.
According to the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association, five to six million Christmas trees are planted each year in Canada, which benefits the local economy. The growth of the majority of these trees lasts seven to ten years and during this period they need care.
Farmers often use fertilizers toaccelerate their growth and give them a beautiful green color. Some of the nutrients from fertilizers are taken up by trees and soil, but some leach into waterways, which can increase nutrient loading and lead to negative environmental impacts.
In areas where Christmas trees are the result of natural regeneration (that is, they grow from older trees, as opposed to seedling trees) chemical herbicides are used more frequently to control remove shrubs. This allows farmers easier access to trees for maintenance. In plantations where trees tend to grow in rows, shrubs are more frequently removed by cutting them, although herbicides are sometimes used to prepare the site where the trees will be planted.
Growing Christmas trees can also provide environmental benefits. Indeed, because of their hardiness, they are often planted where few other plants can grow. In addition, they contribute to wildlife habitat. The roots of these trees stabilize the soil, thereby protecting water sources from sedimentation, and they reduce the risk of flooding by maintaining soil permeability. And again according to the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association, trees provide oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide from the air and eliminate up to 13,000 kilos of air pollutants peracre per year.
UseNatural Christmas trees can pose a fire hazard if allowed to dry out indoors and can also cause harm to people with allergies.
DisposalNatural trees are recyclable and biodegradable. Many municipalities have a Christmas tree recycling program after the holidays (voluntary pick-up or return).
The trunk and branches can be used as mulch for gardens, parks and livestock stalls. Mulch forms a protective layer and provides nutrients to the roots of other plants and vegetation. The trunk can also be split and used as firewood.
Trees that have become useless also serve as an effective barrier against sand and soil erosion, especially on beaches and riverbeds, and if buried in private breeding ponds they also constitute an excellent aquatic habitat where fish can find refuge and feed.
If it is not possible to recycle a natural Christmas tree or if it was not possible to do so in time, it will end up in a landfill or be incinerated. Although natural trees are biodegradable, the environmental conditions of a landfill do not favor their decomposition. Therefore, the trees only take up space there. If they are incinerated, it will cause carbon dioxide emissions.