Tackling the Tree Debate
Happy holidays, Climate Matters community! To complement last year’s popular Christmas graphics, we’re delving into the environmental impact of real vs. artificial trees. This is not an easy question to answer. To assess the carbon footprints of each choice, a few things need to be considered—the full life cycle of trees, from farming or production to transport, use, and disposal.
Because of their PVC production and shipping distance (usually from China), fake trees have a much higher single-year footprint than natural trees. However, if the same artificial tree is used for five or more years, the total footprints are more comparable (per multiple studies of trees’ life-cycle impacts). Donating is another option—Goodwill accepts gently-used fake trees in their original box.
For natural trees, impacts are highest from transport and disposal. According to one analysis, driving 10 miles roundtrip to buy the tree may offset its carbon storage benefits. But there are many ways to give trees a second life, from planting to donating it for ocean dune restoration. Some trees can even be treats for farm or zoo animals—from goats to otters!
Tree-trimming itself has its own footprint. According to PE Americas, LED lights have one fifth the carbon footprint of traditional incandescent lights. As climate change affects Christmas tree availability, greening the holidays could help sustain those trees for Christmases yet to come.