Environment Picture

Real or fake?

Locally grown Christmas trees aren’t perfect, but they’re a better ‘green’ choice than toxics-laden plastic imitations that are steamed across the ocean

Paper or plastic? Cans or bottles? And as the holiday season approaches, add this dilemma: Real or fake?

Every year, millions of consumers face the same choice—a real Christmas tree or an artificial one?

From an environmental perspective, the consensus is that real, locally grown Christmas trees are a better option because they contain fewer toxics, require less energy to transport and contribute to a sustainable local agricultural industry.

But commercially grown trees aren’t perfect.

More than 40 pesticides are recommended for use on Christmas trees, so it is hard to know what chemicals yours has been exposed to. And many people do not know what to do with their trees after the holidays. While some areas have tree recycling programs, many do not.

But there are weightier reasons why real trees are the better choice, especially in Michigan where trees are commercially grown and harvested. Christmas trees in Michigan are grown on land that might be developed if it were not being used for agricultural purposes. Most tree farms plant two to three new trees for every one cut down. And your Michigan tree, in addition to supporting local growers and sellers, travels only a few hundred miles at the most.

Most artificial trees, by comparison, arrive on ships from thousands of miles away—requiring plenty of polluting fuel and contributing heat-trapping carbon dioxide to a warming globe.

What’s more, most artificial trees are made overseas (most in Chinese factories) using polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Some forms of PVC include lead, which is used to stabilize PVC. Studies have shown that PVC breaks down over time, releasing lead in the form of dust that can settle on presents and furniture. Lead is dangerous to everyone, especially young kids, so you want to keep lead dust from anything that might be put into a child’s mouth.

So…is there a perfect choice?

No, but there are sensible precautions to take and questions to ask.

Some advocate purchasing a live tree that you can decorate for the holidays and then plant outside afterward. For those dedicated to artificial trees, it is important to wash your hands after touching the tree to remove any lead dust. You should also inspect your tree for any cracks in the PVC or other signs of excessive wear.

Opting for a real tree? Try to buy local. If buying from a tree farm, ask what pesticides were used on the tree. And consider recycling or composting the tree.

For more information on Michigan’s Christmas Tree industry or to find a tree farm near you, visit www.mcta.org.

-Molly Polverento, Michigan Environmental Council
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