THE great Christmas debate: artificial fir or natural fir?
It’s the holidays, and in the midst of to-do lists and preparations, some will once again wonder if it is better for the environment to buy an artificial Christmas tree or opt for the real thing.
This is a good question to ask. We are in the midst of a climate emergency and are increasingly aware of our environmental impact.
It is therefore logical to wonder whether leaving the trees on the ground to continue growing would not contribute better to the fight against climate change.
A decade to grow or maintain
A medium-sized natural tree (2 to 2.5 meters tall, 10 to 15 years old) has a carbon footprint of about 3.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO 2 e) equivalent , which is equivalent to traveling approximately 14 kilometers by car.
This footprint increases considerably if the tree is sent to the landfill. When it breaks down, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide, and generates a much larger footprint – almost 16 kilograms of CO 2 equivalent . If the tree is composted or recycled, a common practice in many large cities – the environmental footprint remains small.
By comparison, an artificial tree two meters high has a carbon footprint of around 40 kilograms of CO 2 equivalent based solely on the production of materials.
Different types of plastics are used to produce artificial trees. Some, like polyvinyl chloride, are very difficult to recycle and should be avoided. Polyethylene trees, which tend to appear more realistic, have higher prices.
The vast majority of artificial trees are produced in China, Taiwan and South Korea. Shipping from these remote factories increases the trees’ carbon footprint.
An artificial tree should be reused for 10 to 12 years to match the footprint of a natural tree that is composted at the end of its life. Even then, recycling materials from artificial trees is so difficult that it is not a common practice. Some old trees can be reused, but most artificial products will end up in a landfill.
This gives environmentally conscious Canadians an idea of the impact of their choice. But other factors are also at play. Natural trees are becoming scarce and more expensive. In the United States, the average price of a natural tree in 2019 increased from US $ 75 in 2018 to US $ 78 in 2018.
The weather has wreaked havoc on the Christmas trees. In the United States, hot weather and excess rain contributed to a shortage of trees, and forest fires damaged or destroyed some farms. The 2017 and 2018 heat waves have killed young seedlings in Oregon and will impact the supply of trees in the years to come.