Whether your family buys a fake tree or visits a local farm to buy a real tree, it’s important to understand the environmental significance of the choice.
Virginia Tech’s Kyle Peer, from the school’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, says farm-grown Christmas trees benefit the environment beyond the holiday season. Peer is a specialist for growing Christmas trees.
“A farm-grown, real Christmas tree has the upper hand,” Peer said. “While they’re growing, real Christmas trees absorb carbon dioxide and other gasses and emit fresh oxygen.”
Christmas trees are grown on farms like any other crop, and farmers plant new seedlings every spring to replace those harvested.
“Approximately 350 million conifer trees are growing on Christmas tree farms in the U.S. alone,” said Peer. “These trees would not exist if they were not planted by Christmas tree farmers. Christmas tree farms stabilize the soil, protect water supplies, and support complex ecosystems. And, of course, farm-grown Christmas trees can be recycled whereas fake trees cannot.”
Peer said that unlike real trees, artificial trees are a petroleum-based product that are manufactured primarily in Chinese factories. Around 85 percent of fake trees in the U.S. are imported from China, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. This issue is especially concerning due to China’s weak enforcement of environmental regulations. The polyvinyl chloride (PVC) used in most artificial trees has also been boycotted by many environmental groups.
“The average family uses a fake tree for only six to nine years before throwing it away, where it will remain in a landfill indefinitely,” said Peer. “That’s a pretty hefty, long-term environmental burden.”
“Since real trees are biodegradable, they can be recycled or reused for mulch. Be sure to check with the local pick-up or drop-off locations in your local area to see where you can best recycle your tree,” said Peer.
Kyle Peer is a research faculty member in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech and is the superintendent for the Reynolds Homestead Forest Resources Research Center, a 780-acre center created in 1969 to further the study of forest biology and soil science. His areas of specialization include vegetative propagation, clonal forestry, and tree breeding. He is an industry advisor for the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association and also serves as the Virginia Cooperative Extension Specialist for Christmas Trees.