Christmas Tree au Naturel
It is no contest for a real Christmas tree to be more environmentally friendly than an artificial one, provided the former is replanted.
But no live tree can be successfully returned to the soil if separated from its roots, as most cut Christmas trees are these days. To be reestablished, the trees must have their roots wrapped in burlap and enough land available for siting, whereupon dividends can accrue. Among the trees’ potential benefits are air purification, wildlife habitat, shade, and aesthetic improvement.
If the real trees are rootless, they can at least be incinerated or transformed into mulch or firewood, thereby leaving a benign environmental footprint.
Alas, the ratio among celebrants has shifted in the last few decades. Where real trees once outnumbered artificial trees four to one, it is now just the opposite. Storage, convenience and price have been instrumental in the change, raising the question what does that mean for the environment fare?
Artificial trees can be reused multiple times before heading to the landfill. Experts estimate that after an average recycled use of 4.7 years, artificial trees’ have earned their environmental spurs.
But plastic artificial trees are manufactured with a number of toxic chemicals, not the least of which is polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Lead and cadmium are also present, posing additional public health hazards. There is always the risk of discarded plastic in landfills leaching into groundwater supplies.
Replanting real Christmas trees may require a lot more effort than maintaining artificial ones. But from an environmental perspective, when human beings act in harmony with nature, the outcome is the best.
It is the same logic evidenced in wetlands being better buffers than manmade seawalls against storm surge, or a moratorium surpassing quotas in the recovery of depleted fisheries.