The greenest Christmas tree: real or artificial?
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Dec 08, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

The greenest Christmas tree: real or artificial?

An environmentally friendly purchase hinges on how many years you’re willing to keep that fake Christmas tree around the home.

Everyone goes green — colourfully speaking — when they buy a Christmas tree, be it real or artificial.

But the greenest path — the route with the shallowest carbon footprint — is murky, and fraught with bias.

In Ontario, natural trees often grow on regional or local farms, and meet their demise organically by returning to the earth as mulch.

Fake trees, available in big-box stores across the country after a journey from China, are typically made from polyvinyl chloride. PVC unleashes dioxin, a carcinogen, into the air during production and again during disposal if burned.

“You’ve got all sorts of different products that go into that manufacturing and transportation process, most of which are petroleum-based,” said Matthew Leitch, associate professor of natural resources management at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.

An artificial tree, however, can be recycled in your living room for decades and demands no pesticides or fertilizers, he noted.

In Ontario, natural trees are grown on local farms, like the Fraser trees on the Taylor Tree Farm in Stouffville. (ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE)

Montreal consulting firm Ellipsos found that a fake tree would need to be reused for at least 20 years to earn a greener halo than a fresh-cut fir, pine or spruce. Over a typical six-year life cycle, an artificial tree incurs three times the amount of carbon emissions than those associated with using a natural conifer, according to the independent study.

“The natural tree is the best,” Ellipsos president Jean-Sebastien Trudel told the Star, noting that other researchers have found the average fake-tree consumer tosses them after six years.

Ellipsos zeroed in on the Christmas tree market in Montreal, with trees either grown in Quebec or manufactured in China. Results would likely differ based on city and region, the 2009 report stated.

The American Christmas Tree Association, a trade group representing the artificial tree industry, insists its member companies’ products bough to environmental dictates.

Taylor Tree Farm
John Klecker, owner of Taylor Tree farm in Stouffville, thinks natural trees are the way to go. (ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE)

“There is a clear environmental break-even point between the two trees,” said William Paddock, managing director of WAP Sustainability Consulting, based in Nashville, Tenn.

He stated in a release that the energy demanded to produce one artificial tree amounts to the energy required to grow and cut six actual conifers.

John Klecker, who runs Taylor Tree Farms in Stouffville, Ont., thinks that viewpoint loses the forest for the trees. “Hands down, it’s going to be a real tree that’s more environmentally friendly,” he told The Star.

Natural Christmas trees provide wildlife habitat, protect against soil erosion, sequester carbon dioxide and produce oxygen during the eight to 10 years they grow before being chopped and hauled to market, he said.

Come January, city trucks collect them from the curb and they’re ground into mulch for Toronto parks.

“Our main conclusion is whether you choose the natural tree or the artificial tree, overall we’re not talking about really big impacts on the environment, compared with overheating your house or driving to work every day,” Trudel said.

With files from Catherine Porter

Toronto Star

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