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The Christmas Tree Debate: Real or Fake?

November 30, 2009

image credit: flickr user red5standingby

Now that Thanksgiving and Black Friday are over, people are starting to purchase their Christmas trees and decorations. The big question for many families is: real or fake?

image credit: flickr user xcode

I’ve always grown up with a live cut tree. There’s something about picking out just the right one and the smell of pine that I just can’t get over. But this year, I’ve been contemplating other options and I’ve found that doing the ‘right thing’ for the environment is a bit trickier than I thought.

First, you’ve got the argument that cutting down millions of live trees to have them dry out in living rooms and then sit curbside destined for landfills is a terrible thing. And to make it worse, lots of Christmas trees (at least in cities and suburbs) are bagged in plastic before they head off to oxygen-deprived landfills, so the fact that they are bio-degradable is really pretty irrelevant. Oh, and then there’s the (usually plastic) tree stand that many people buy every year to accomodate their live, cut tree. Okay, so maybe there’s one vote for why you might get a fake over a real tree. But it still seems real trees are a better bet, and I’ll explain why.

Fake trees are usually manufactured in China from PVC, plastics and other non-biodegradable materials. The environmental impact of shipping those ‘trees’ to the U.S. and then distributing them to retailers around the country is absurd. Not to mention you’ve got toxins being emitted from the PVC into your living room. And they’re still taking up landfill space (whereas real trees can biodegrade in the the appropriate environment). Hmmmm, deadly toxins or the sweet smell of pine tree? Okay, so then we’re definitely decided: it’s a real tree.

But if that still leaves you a little weary, try this third option: potted Christmas trees. Roots intact, usually bundled in burlap, you can keep the tree for a few days before you ‘recycle’ it by planting it. You can plant it in your backyard, in a neighbor’s backyard, pretty much anywhere. And if you take it a step further, you can find different kinds of trees that may be better suited to be planted in an urban space. For example, in San Francisco, the Dreaming of a Green Christmas Program invites people to bring a ‘street tree’ into their home for the holidays, and then return it to areas of the city that lack any greenery. The options for trees in the program include: Southern Magnolias, small-leaf tristania, strawberry trees and the New Zealand Christmas tree instead of the usual pine. In Portland, OR you can get a tree through The Original Living Christmas Tree Company which delivers 5 or 7-foot tall potted evergreens to your door, then takes them away after New Year’s and plants them all over the Northwest. Sounds pretty good to me.

Decorating a tree from the Dreaming of A Green Christmas Program (via

Unfortunately, I have yet to come across any programs similar to either of these in Boston. Do you know of any? Even if I do get a potted tree this year, I am surrounded by asphalt, and know of nowhere (legal) that I would be able to plant a tree within walking distance of my home. Hmmm, thankfully I have a few more weeks to work out some solution. But in the meantime, debate how much waste is created over Christmas: wrapping paper that comes in plastic coated tubes, ribbons, toy packaging, styrofoam peanuts used for shipping and to keep electronics packed safely, and much more will likely fill up your trash bin on December 26th so why add to that with a fake or bagged Christmas tree?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. burrda permalink
    December 1, 2009 12:29 am

    One of these days I’d love to get a real tree but I already own a small artificial tree. (tall but narrow… not a big footprint… perfect for my small home) I can’t seem to cut down a live tree just to fill my home with the pine or fir fragrance I crave. I think sometimes the more ecologically sound option is just to go with what you already have instead of buying something new. I’ll take a walk through the Christmas tree sales lot… or better yet… in the woods for my fragrance fix.

    This year I’m planning to make some fabric Christmas bags with ribbon ties for our gifts… very like the wine bags seen in stores. We’ll be able to reuse them again and again.

    Great blog Liza! Kepp it up!

    • lizabean permalink*
      December 7, 2009 5:56 pm

      Reusing what you already have is absolutely the best option! Your handmade christmas bags sound great!!

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