There has been ongoing debates on whether we should buy real Christmas trees or fake ones and which are better for the environment. With so many opposing opinions I wanted to take a deeper look, I found a study by Ellipsos that investigated the Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Artificial vs Natural Trees. This study looked at trees from nurseries in Quebec and compared them to fake trees made in the United States and China.
The way they evaluated the carbon and energy costs of the production of the real trees was by dividing the energy needed at 3 different phases (Production, Use and End of Life). What are production costs for real trees? Well that's all the energy needed and emissions produced to grow the seedlings in a nursery, which is then planted in the production field and finally the production of the metal stands. This process requires, fertilizers, irrigation, materials and transport all which have environmental costs.
On the other hand plastic trees are made of PVC and therefore are not recyclable, especially since the fibres are so small. That means once disposed of these trees end up in landfill. I wonder if there's just a pile of forgotten xmas trees in our landfills somewhere. There are CO2 costs in producing plastic trees along with the metal frames that hold them up. This doesn't include the carbon costs of shipping them many kilometers to our local retailers.
So you must be wondering the verdict.... well it depends. Real trees can serve a secondary purpose at the end of the season if you have a fire place, feel free to use it to warm the home post holidays. They are also natural products and will definitely degrade before the plastic tree will. Before you hop into your car and buy a real tree look up which tree farms you want to buy from. If you're travelling over 20 km to get a tree the CO2 emissions just from your travel outweigh any environmental benefits of a natural tree. Have you been using your fake tree for over 20 years? Well your longterm use of the tree just outweighed its environmental production cost.
The overall consensus, a natural tree produces 3.1 kg CO2/ year compared to 8 kg CO2/ year for a fake tree. If your local tree farm is less than 20 km than go for it! If you're buying your real tree from a local retailer ask where they get the tree from. Real trees are better for the environment if you don't plan on using your fake tree for more than 6 years, so if your heart is set on a fake tree try to use it for as many years as possible.
Here's a great trade off regardless of which tree you buy, carpooling between 1 to 3 weeks per year would offset the carbon emissions due to the productions of fake and real trees!