By: Elaine Hirsh, Guest Post

Christmas trees impact the environment, but the consensus of both environmental groups and industry organizations seems to be that the growing and cutting of Christmas trees has more benefits than disadvantages, particularly in comparison to artificial trees. While research conducted masters degree candidates in environmental studies rarely look at this topic, it is worthy of further research given the scope of Christmas shopping that occurs every year around the world.

According to the sustainable development firm Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), the externalities from using a natural Christmas tree produces 3.1 kilograms of greenhouse gases, while the externalities from using an artificial tree generates 8.1 kilograms per year. The LCA study, reviewed by an independent third party, took into account a number of environmental impacts from production of the trees to their disposal. The 350 to 450 million Christmas trees grown each year in the United States also emit oxygen into the atmosphere and store carbon.

According to the Natural Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), the industry also provides 100,000 jobs in the United States. The NCTA stresses that majority of live trees are grown in farms, like other crops, and for every tree that is harvested, two more are planted. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 92 percent of artificial Christmas trees are manufactured in China. The average life of an artificial tree is 6 to 8 years. Constructed from polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC), they release cancer-causing dioxins during their production, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Some people worry that Christmas trees may carry harmful pesticides, but a study conducted by the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center at North Carolina State found that a tree receives only about one-half of one ounce of pesticide over its lifetime. That’s less than the amount used on apples or pumpkins.

The best way to lessen any negative impact of cut Christmas trees is to properly recycle them. The trees can be chipped into beneficial compost or mulch. Consumers can also help negate the impact to the environment by using energy-efficient lights, such as LEDs and natural ornamentation which can be purchased from local businesses and artisans.

Purchasing a tree that is grown close to a home helps too!! Also, the farther that a product is transported, the more harmful gas emissions are released into the atmosphere. Purchasing a live tree to be planted in the garden after the holidays is considered a greener alternative, but not if the tree is transported over a long distance.

Real trees help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, help prevent soil erosion and provide a habitat for birds and animals. All in all, real Christmas trees have smaller environmental footprints than their plastic counterparts. Regardless, there are things you can do even if you do buy a real Christmas tree to help further reduce your effects on the environment.

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