I've been checking into the environmental and economic tradeoffs of artificial versus natural Christmas trees for a short piece I've just completed. The environmental curmudgeon in me is inclined to take no more than a few evergreen boughs pruned from things that will continue to live and then scatter some reusable or biodegradable decorations around the house. But if the choice is between artificial trees and real ones, I'm inclined to the real ones.
Real Christmas trees are now almost exclusively grown on tree farms, farms that wouldn't exist except for the market for Christmas trees. That means hundreds of thousands of acres of trees are growing that otherwise might not be. Those trees are typically grown on land not suitable for agriculture. This is true particularly in the West where they might grow on rocky hillsides inaccessible to and impenetrable by the plow. And, when you buy a tree, the tree farmer is naturally obliged to plant another one, sometimes more than one, to start the cycle all over again.
Beyond this, the trees are recyclable. Many communities now have curbside pickup, and most others have drop-off points. The discarded trees are turned into wood chips which are often provided to the public for free.
Real trees are also indisputably good for the U. S. economy. Almost all the natural Christmas trees sold in the United States are grown here. (A few from Canada make it across the border in border states because of transportation costs.) On the other hand, more than 90 percent of artificial trees which come into the U. S. are made in China. That's good for the Chinese, but perhaps we could have them manufacture something more earth-friendly for us. The artificial trees are made from plastic, a nonrenewable petroleum-based product, and metal. I'll admit they're convenient and reusable, but they certainly lack the aesthetic appeal of a real tree.
And, according to a survey commissioned by the National Christmas Tree Association, an organization of growers and sellers, artificial trees are typically discarded after six to nine years. Not exactly evidence that their owners are slaves to the current fake tree fashions, but an indication that artificial trees are really disposable as well as reusable.
Find a real one and have an old-fashioned Christmas.
UPDATE: A commenter posted a story from Sojourners about the lives of migrant workers on tree farms in North Carolina. You'll find it a tale similar to that of many migrant farm workers in America. (I had to erase and then repost the story to make it visible at the top of the comment area.)
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