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Pulp vs. Petroleum: The Debate Over Artificial Christmas Trees

I know people who struggle with cutting down live trees for Christmas, because I'm one of them. I can't stand the thought of cutting down a gorgeous tree just to uphold a holiday tradition. In the past I've attempted to avoid this self-imposed "tree guilt" by decorating artificial trees, displaying potted "living" trees or by decorating the trees in my front yard. Lately, I've been going Christmas "tree-less" altogether. So when people ask me which is a more environmentally friendly option, cutting down a real tree or buying an artificial one, I have only one answer: A real tree, of course!


Real Trees Are Renewable

As any environmentalist (and logger) will tell you, trees are a renewable resource. That means that unlike petroleum, which is created by natural processes that takes far too long to be considered useful, trees are naturally renewable (or can be renewed artificially) in a time framework that is useful to people. Most live Christmas trees are harvested from tree farms that are in the business of growing and producing trees like a farmer produces corn. For every one harvested, up to three more are planted each year.

Most artificial trees are manufactured overseas (usually China) and made from petroleum-based plastic products. North American forests cover almost the same area of land as they did 100 years ago, but as you may have heard, some experts say we're getting a bit low on oil.


Real Trees Support Life

According to The National Christmas Tree Association's website, every acre of Christmas trees produces enough oxygen for 18 people every day. In the United States alone, there are approximately 500,000 acres of Christmas Trees-that's enough trees to provide 9 million people with fresh oxygen every day. Tree farms also reduce soil erosion, filter run off and provide food and shelter for wildlife, insects and plants. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing to look at, but the trees are often grown on soil that would not otherwise be suitable for growing crops.

Manufacturing artificial Christmas trees supports our dependence on foreign oil, and produces toxic metals and plastics like lead and PVC. In some cases, it also encourages low wages for disadvantaged workers. In the past, the importation of artificial trees with wooden trunks was also responsible for transporting invasive species of insects to North America from China.


Real Trees Reduce Carbon

Trees give off life-sustaining oxygen, but they also absorb carbon dioxide and other harmful gases while they grow. That makes growing trees an important part of the fight against global warming. This helps to offset the CO2 released into the environment when we burn fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Unfortunately, trees can only do so much. The best way to reduce the CO2 released when we burn fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas, is to reduce our consumption.

Real Trees Can Be Recycled

Most communities offer special curbside pickup or drop off sites for Christmas trees after the holidays. Trees are chipped into biodegradable mulch, which can be used for playgrounds, gardens, hiking trails, fuels, and even pharmaceuticals. To find out how you can recycle you live Christmas tree after the holidays visit the National Christmas Tree Association at

About The Author: Ellen Brown is our Green Living and Gardening Expert. Click here to ask Ellen a question! Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at

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December 7, 20060 found this helpful

While I agree with using real trees when possible, for someone like myself with allergies to both molds and pine trees, artificial trees are a blessing. I miss the real trees we used to get but not the way I felt when we had them.


Also, artificial trees do not dry up and drop needles on the floor.
If you can have a real tree, we used to decorate ours with popcorn and cranberries and other edibles and put it outside, stand and all, as a feeding station for birds. We put ours by a window where we could enjoy the activity.

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