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Christmas trees: Is real or fake best?

Christmas trees: Is real or fake best?

This question comes back every year. What should we do—buy a natural Christmas tree or an artificial one?

Which is best?

The debate can sometimes get heated, leaving each side thinking it has won. In fact, both options have pros and cons. A Québec consulting firm specialized in sustainable development has finally settled the argument with a comparative Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) pitting artificial trees against natural ones. An LCA assesses a product’s impact from the extraction of its raw materials to its disposal—from cradle to grave—and taking every step of the process into account, including transportation.

And the winner is...

The winner is… the natural tree. Its impact on climate change and the depletion of natural resources is less than that of an artificial tree. The impact of artificial trees on local ecosystems is five times less, but considering the overall impact on the planet, the natural tree comes out on top.

 The assessment shows that the natural tree’s life cycle involves a much smaller amount of greenhouse gases than that of the synthetic tree. But it means cutting down trees! Christmas trees do not contribute to deforestation—that is a myth. The vast majority of trees are grown in plantations, generally on marginal land, such as under high-tension power lines. To overturn this verdict, you would have to keep your artificial tree for at least 20 years! Its negative impact on the environment occurs mainly in its manufacture and transportation, sinceartificial trees are mostly made in China. The study nevertheless concludes that the environmental impact of your tree—whether real or fake—is negligible compared to the impact you could make by changing your transportation habits.

A few possible alternatives

  • No Christmas tree at all—it had to be said.
  • A potted Christmas tree—when the festivities are over, store it in a cool place and put it outside at the first thaw. It can then be planted and reused the next year. The trick to keeping it alive is to have it indoors for as short a time as possible. In Vancouver, a company has developed a market for renting potted Christmas trees. They deliver the tree to your home in time for Christmas and pick it up again when the festivities are over.
  • An organic tree—grown without the use of pesticides, thus preventing their release into the environment. It can be composted and reused to grow vegetables.
  • A socially responsible tree—purchased in support of a cause or to help raise funds for a community organization.
  • An ecological tree—Cascades has developed a Christmas tree made from recycled cardboard. The best part is that you can make a family activity out of assembling it.
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