It's the holiday season again, and in the midst of making to-do lists and prepping for festive dinners, some people will once again ponder whether it is better for the environment to buy an artificial Christmas tree or to opt for the real thing.
A Decade to Grow or Keep<p>A natural tree of average size (2-2.5 metres tall, 10-15 years old) <a href="https://www.carbontrust.com/news/2013/01/christmas-tree-disposal-advice/" target="_blank">has a carbon footprint</a> of about 3.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) — about the same as driving a car 14 kilometres.</p><p>This footprint increases dramatically if the tree is sent to landfill. When it decomposes, it will produce methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and generate a much larger footprint — close to 16 kilograms of CO2e. If the tree is <a href="https://toronto.citynews.ca/2008/01/03/how-to-dispose-of-your-christmas-tree/" target="_blank">composted or recycled</a>, a common practice in many major cities — the environmental footprint remains low.</p><p>By comparison, a <a href="https://www.carbontrust.com/news/2013/01/christmas-tree-disposal-advice/" target="_blank">two-metre tall artificial</a> tree has a carbon footprint of about 40 kilograms CO2e based on the production of the materials alone.</p>
Burning Trees<p>This gives ecologically minded Canadians some sense of the impacts of their choice. But other factors are also at play. Real trees are <a href="https://www.narcity.com/news/ca/christmas-trees-in-canada-are-running-low-and-prices-are-rising" target="_blank">becoming scarce and more expensive</a>. In the U.S., the average price of a real tree in 2019 has <a href="https://fortune.com/2019/12/02/christmas-trees-2019/" target="_blank">increased to $78 from $75 in 2018</a>.</p><p>Weather has taken a toll on Christmas trees. In the U.S., hot weather and too much rain are considered contributing factors to a <a href="https://www.today.com/news/tight-supply-christmas-trees-could-mean-higher-prices-t167619" target="_blank">shortage of trees</a>, and wildfires <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/a-wildfire-wiped-out-their-christmas-tree-farm-and-livelihood-now-they-wonder-what-to-do-next/2018/12/21/966080cc-023d-11e9-9122-82e98f91ee6f_story.html" target="_blank">damaged or destroyed some farms</a>. Heat waves in 2017 and 2018 killed <a href="https://www.kgw.com/article/news/local/christmas-tree-shortage/283-682f4617-5af6-42f3-b9b8-575cf8dfc1ba" target="_blank">young seedlings in Oregon</a> and will impact tree supply in years to come.</p>
Oh, Christmas Tree<p>Economics has also played a role in tree availability. Today's trees were planted around the time of the Great Recession of 2008.</p><p>The impacts of this economic downturn were far-reaching in the industry. As demand fell during those years, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/02/us/christmas-tree-shortage-demand-supply-trnd/index.html" target="_blank">many growers went out of business</a>. This reduced the number of trees planted and contributed to the scarcity in today's Christmas tree marketplace.</p><p>The Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association has shrunk dramatically in the past 15 years — from <a href="https://globalnews.ca/news/6282405/canada-christmas-trees-shortage/" target="_blank">300 members to about 80 today</a>.</p><p>Is it time to give up on real Christmas trees?</p><p>Holiday trees provide <a href="https://treecanada.ca/blog/why-buying-a-fake-christmas-tree-just-doesnt-cut-it/" target="_blank">wildlife habitat, protect soil, moderate floods and drought, filter air and sequester carbon while they grow</a>. Tree farms also provide local economic benefits that don't come with foreign-made products.</p>
Don’t Stress About What Kind of Christmas Tree to Buy, but Reuse Artificial Trees and Compost Natural Ones
By Bert Cregg
Environmentally conscious consumers often ask me whether a real Christmas tree or an artificial one is the more sustainable choice. As a horticulture and forestry researcher, I know this question is also a concern for the Christmas tree industry, which is wary of losing market share to artificial trees.