By Julia Hernández Malagón
Many of us like to decorate our homes as we get closer to the holiday season, and having a Christmas tree on display is often at the core of our celebrations. But how do we balance keeping this tradition alive with being conscious of the environment? What kind of Christmas tree should we buy?
One might think that an artificial Christmas tree is more detrimental because it’s made of plastic (usually PVC), which is difficult to recycle. It has typically been shipped from China, and it’s going to end up in a landfill. But is this statement really true? For example, in my family, we have been putting out the same artificial Christmas tree since I was a kid. It’s been in my family for over two decades. Is this a bad choice?
Similarly, one might think that a natural tree is more sustainable. But there are some important questions to ask here. For example, has the tree been grown locally? Or was it transported from the farm to the retailer? Was it grown with or without pesticides? How is it going to be recycled? If we let trees be sent to landfills, they will end up being a source of methane emissions, an extremely potent greenhouse gas.
The answer is that a natural tree is generally the better option. To understand how one might arrive at this conclusion, we can refer to several life cycle assessment (LCA) studies of both types of trees. An LCA assesses a product’s impact from the extraction of its raw materials to its disposal, considering every step of the process.
Ultimately, these studies suggest that locally sourced natural trees have less environmental impact than artificial ones.
When it comes to artificial ones, the key to achieving environmental gains lies in the amount of time that they are kept and reused. Studies show that an artificial Christmas tree should ideally be used for 4–20 years to reduce its environmental impact.
Here are some recommendations:
Enjoy the long-awaited holiday season while taking care of the environment by following these recommendations, and don’t forget: Studies have shown that having a Christmas tree at home has a small impact compared to our day-to-day activities.
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