It may appear that an artificial Christmas tree, used year after year, is better for the environment than the use of a real tree, cut down each yuletide season. However, new research suggests that the real tree has a lower carbon footprint.
The claim in favor of the environmental credentials of the ‘real’ tree has been made by plant biologist Clint Springer, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia.
Springer has said, and quoted on Newswire, based on recent research undertaken, that: “a 7-foot cut tree's impact on climate is 60 percent less than a 7-foot artificial tree used for six years. So while cut trees are not carbon-neutral, in terms of carbon-use, they are better than artificial trees.”
This is because artificial trees are made with polyvinyl chloride (or PVC, otherwise known as vinyl), one of the most environmentally offensive forms of non-renewable, petroleum-derived plastic.
Springer’s report seems to match an earlier one (PDF) conducted by Jean-Sebastien Trudel, founder of the firm, Ellipsos. This study was based on the North American consumer and compared the most commonly sold 6' artificial Christmas tree, manufactured in China, to 6' real Christmas trees grown locally in the United States.
Aside from the environment debate over real versus plastic pines, Springer also goes onto argue that whilst some people also avoid real trees due to the risk of allergies, the chances of developing an allergic reaction are limited: “Farm-raised trees are too young to be reproductive in most cases, so pollen is not an issue. It's possible, though, that some people might be sensitive to the natural scent of the trees."
Springer goes on to say:
“From what we know about household allergens like mold spores, a house with a real tree does not usually show a higher rate of indoor air pollution than a house with an artificial tree, because mold spores found on live trees do not usually become air-borne."
Based on this assessment, the use of the real tree may not be too bad an idea provided that the cost of buying a real tree each year can be off-set against the savings of using an artificial tree each year.