O Christmas Tree, How Plastic Are Thy Branches

As the holiday season comes to a close and families either throw out their real trees or pack away their fake ones, they are once again reminded of the classic dilemma: should they opt for the tradition of a real Christmas tree next year or the convenience of an artificial one? Not everyone’s first thought is the environmental impact of that choice, but it is an important factor to consider.

Fake trees are typically made from non-biodegradable materials, like PVC, meaning they don’t break down easily. Their manufacturing process also requires significant amounts of energy from non-renewable sources. However, proponents of fake trees argue that, with enough repetitive usage, the reuse of artificial trees cancels their initial carbon footprint. 

“I mean, I think it also has a lot to do with how much easier it is,” junior Louise Atherton, a PV student and plastic tree enthusiast, said. “Not everyone has the time to go out and get a real tree, and most fake ones come with lights, too. They’re quick to set up and don’t make as much of a mess.”

On the other hand, some people believe that cutting a tree down harms the environment, but that isn’t the case. Most buyers get their trees from tree lots or farms, meaning many trees are replanted to replace those that get chopped down. The existence of those farms has a positive environmental impact in itself. That’s not to say they’re a perfect solution. Pesticides and fertilizers that are often used to help real Christmas trees grow can poorly impact soil and water quality. A significant issue, though, is the aftermath of Christmas when all the trees are thrown away. The transportation of the trees leaves its footprint, as well.

“I honestly didn’t even think about that,” another PV student said. “Yeah, that probably causes some issues. I know my family just leaves our tree by the garbage can after we take down decorations.” 

Some communities have recycling programs for trees, but the vast majority end up in landfills, producing methane gas as they decompose. In other words, there’s no black-and-white solution to this modern-day question. Ultimately, it’s up to whatever’s best for the consumer.