It’s the centerpiece of the largest vacation of the yr for a lot of American households: the Christmas tree, the point of interest for events and presents, replete with favourite ornaments and lights.
Some cherish the scent of an actual tree and the custom of bringing it residence, whereas others desire the tidier and simpler possibility of the plastic selection.
But which is best for the surroundings? Here’s a have a look at a few of the central claims — and the frequent misconceptions — in that debate.
Cutting down bushes is at all times unhealthy for the surroundings. (False.)
Don’t really feel unhealthy about slicing down a tree for the vacation. Christmas bushes are crops grown on farms, like lettuce or corn. They will not be reduce down from wild forests on a big scale, mentioned Bert Cregg, an skilled in Christmas tree manufacturing and forestry at Michigan State University.
A five- or six-foot tree takes just below a decade to develop, and as soon as it’s reduce down, the farmer will usually plant at the least one instead. The bushes present many advantages to the surroundings as they develop, cleansing the air and offering watersheds and habitats for wildlife. They develop greatest on rolling hills which are usually unsuitable for different crops and, in fact, they’re biodegradable.
Big growers tend to dominate in Oregon, like Holiday Tree Farms, which uses helicopters to harvest about a million trees annually, for sale at big box stores and other locations.
In western North Carolina, the farms tend to be smaller, like the one owned by Larry Smith, who has been growing trees for more than 40 years.
His business, Mountain Top Fraser Fir, was chosen to supply this year’s White House Christmas tree, a 19-foot specimen on display in the Blue Room.
“Tell the kids and grandkids to keep buying real trees so we keep the local economy strong and we don’t have to sell the land to the rich people from New York City to make condos,” Mr. Smith said.
Prices for real trees have reached record highs over the last few years because farmers planted fewer trees during the 2008 recession. That may have driven some families to make the leap to a manufactured one. The average price was $75 for a real tree last year, while the average price for an artificial tree — which can be reused — was $107, according to a Nielsen/Harris poll conducted on behalf of the National Christmas Tree Association, which represents sellers of real trees.
Tim O’Connor, a spokesman for the organization, said the best way to ensure future supply was to buy a tree this year.
Reusing an artificial tree reduces its environmental impact. (True.)
A recent survey for the American Christmas Tree Association, conducted by Nielsen, found that three quarters of American households display a tree — and the vast majority of those, around 80 percent, are artificial.
Most of the artificial trees on the market are made of PVC and steel in China and shipped to the United States — and eventually sent to a landfill.
While that may not sound eco-friendly, the A.C.T.A., which represents manufacturers, claims the environmental impact is lower than that of a real tree if you use the artificial tree for five or more years. The group argues that getting a new, real tree each year — and possibly disposing of it in a landfill at the end of the season — has a bigger impact on greenhouse gas emissions, water and energy use, and other areas than a reused artificial tree does.
That assertion is based on a study carried out on the group’s behalf by WAP Sustainability Consulting.
Mr. O’Connor of the N.C.T.A., the organization that represents sellers of real trees, said he rejected the study’s findings, saying it was “fall-off-your-horse simple that a tree made out of oil, turned into PVC plastic in China and shipped over on a boat, cannot be better than growing a real tree.”
Mr. Cregg, the forestry expert at Michigan State, said the study’s parameters were too narrow. What about the effect on wildlife and local water supplies, he asked, and the benefit of preserving farmland and jobs?
“Are you interested in supporting the local economy and keeping plastic out of landfills?” he said. “Those would be the questions I would focus on.”
Thomas Harman, the founder and chief executive of Balsam Hill, a high-end artificial tree company, said that his factories recycle scrap plastic for use in some components of their products. But manufacturing a recyclable tree has been challenging. The copper, steel and plastic that are fused together in the production process would need to be taken apart to be recycled.
In the meantime, he encouraged people to reuse trees and to adorn them with LED lights, which save energy.
“We’re focused on making our trees reusable as long as possible,” Mr. Harman said. “I hope that our trees are in use 20 or 30 years later.”
The greenest real tree is the one that’s bought locally and recycled. (True.)
The preference for real trees is strongest in the Northeast and along the West Coast, data from the A.C.T.A. shows. Mr. O’Connor said that younger, more environmentally conscious consumers — the same ones who buy organic produce at the grocery store — are increasingly embracing real trees. And some families enjoy visiting farms to choose and cut their own trees.
“There’s this wonderful family experience that’s just not parallel to dragging a dusty box out of the attic,” Mr. O’Connor said.
Bill Ulfelder, the executive director of the Nature Conservancy in New York, said real trees were “unquestionably” the better option. He added that there are ways shoppers can lessen the impact of using a real tree: Shop locally, minimize driving and recycle the tree.
New York City collects thousands of trees for MulchFest each year, and uses the mulch in public parks to enrich soil and prevent erosion. Some areas also use discarded trees to prevent beach erosion or sink them into lakes to create fish habitats.
You can also avoid the need to discard an old tree entirely. Some vendors sell living Christmas trees that can be replanted. Others rent traditional Christmas trees, complete with delivery and setup.
The tree is just a drop in the bucket in this season of air travel and consumerism. (True.)
Brad McAllister, a managing director of WAP Sustainability Consulting, said he was surprised by how small the impact of either tree choice was compared with other central elements of the holidays, like air travel and shopping.
“If a consumer wants to celebrate the holidays in a truly environmental fashion, they need to look beyond just the Christmas tree,” he said.
Jami Warner, the executive director of the A.C.T.A., was eager to avoid a direct confrontation on the issue of real versus artificial.
“We really do believe that there is no such thing as a bad Christmas tree,” she said.
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