It’s that time of year when families turn their attention to an almost defining symbol of the December atmosphere: the Christmas tree. And here the debates are heated every season: while some appreciate the smell of a natural Christmas tree and are happy when they go to the market to choose the most beautiful one, others prefer the simplicity of artificial trees that they reuse every year.
But now a new theory is entering the debate, that of caring for the environment.
However, as lately, sustainable behavior has caught on with many people, and the Christmas tree is part of this discussion: which version has the least impact on the environment, the artificial or the natural? Experts say the answer is complicated.
An artificial Christmas tree is used for an average of six years
The answer regarding plastic trees seems to be a simple one, because we imagine that reusing an object is the prerogative of environmentally friendly behavior.
But experts say that such a Christmas tree is used by a family for 6 years – that would be the average time that plastic trees stay in people’s homes. In this context, the cost of the impact on the environment is much higher, compared to the one that the natural option would impose.
“It’s certainly a much more nuanced and complex issue than we think. (…) If artificial firs are used for a longer period of time, then the balance changes,” said Andy Finton, director of landscape design at the Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, according to CNN.
As a rule, plastic trees are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic – some studies have linked PVC to massive pollution, but also to cases of cancer and other diseases.
The case of natural firs – how do we restore the balance?
On average, a Christmas tree takes seven years to mature, and as it grows, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By protecting forests and planting many trees, greenhouse gas is reduced and we help reduce the climate crisis we are going through.
But when trees are cut or burned, they can release back into the atmosphere the carbon they have accumulated up to that point.
In the case of Christmas trees, the harm is not so great when, immediately after the tree is cut down, the person responsible plants more saplings in its place. Thus, according to Doug Hundley, spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association, a balance is created. Hundley advocates for natural fir trees in people’s homes.
Choosing a variant can be complicated, especially because from a climatic point of view, there are advantages and disadvantages for both situations. But natural Christmas trees still hold the charm. Whatever the choice, experts say people should also identify other ways to protect the environment.
“There’s this debate every year, but once you’ve made a decision, you should feel good about it, because there are so many more things we can do throughout our lives that certainly have a greater impact on the climate,” concluded Andy Finton.