Americans mull whether to buy real or fake Christmas tree

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

WASHINGTON - Over 40 million Christmas trees are expected to be sold in the US this season but Americans are divided over whether to buy a fake or a real tree.

With some 13 million artificial trees and 30 million real ones are expected to be sold in the US this year, a lot is at stake, reports Christian Science Monitor.

“Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a real Christmas tree,” says Jack Moore, co-owner of Gro-Moore Farms in Rochester, New York, as he sold the last of his potted evergreen topiaries to a customer. “The smell, picking out the tree as a family - it’s all about family, tradition,” he said.

“There’s a lot of hassle with a natural tree,” says Thomas Harman, CEO of Balsam Hill, a maker of premium artificial trees in Redwood City, Calif.

“Artificial gives you the realism of a natural tree with the convenience and safety of an artificial tree,” he said.

In recent years, the arguments on each side have gone beyond such general assessments, becoming much more finely honed, the report said.

That’s because Christmas trees are one of the latest items to join the list of consumables that Americans scrutinize for environmental, economic and political correctness, it said.

Despite popular opinion that plastic is better since it spares real trees from being cut, the latest research seems to indicate that a real tree is the better option.

“Real trees are the better choice,” says Frank Lowenstein, director of climate-change adaptation for the Nature Conservancy in Arlington.

“There are over 400 million Christmas trees growing in the US right now, and only about 10 percent of those are cut each year,” says Lowenstein. “The ones cut are replaced with one to three new trees.”

Buying a real tree keeps land covered with trees, he says - trees that “clean our air and water, provide habitat for wildlife, and suck up carbon”.

A recent study by the Montreal-based consulting firm Ellipsos found that carbon emissions associated with a real tree purchased each year were about one-third of those associated with an artificial tree used over a six-year stretch, which is the typical length of time that North Americans use a fake tree.

An artificial tree would have to be used for over 20 years to be considered more eco-friendly than a real tree, it said.

“I feel like I buy enough plastic crap from China,” says Rick Dungey, spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association, a Chesterfield organization that represents tree growers. “I’m not going to buy my Christmas tree from there, too. I’d rather buy one from an American farmer.”

Close to 17,000 family farms in all 50 states grow Christmas trees as a crop, Dungey says. Most artificial trees, including the ones that Harman of Balsam Hill sells, are made in China.

“Buying real trees helps keep farms in business,” says Moore of Gro-Moore Farms. “Any farm you keep in business is good for the local economy, for guys like me.”

However, there are reasons to consider plastic, say advocates of artificial trees.

“There’s a bigger reason (to go artificial),” Harman says. “It’s a safety issue.”

Lights strung on real trees can start fires, and sap and falling needles can be a hazard to children and pets. That’s why the New York city fire commissioner came out a few weeks ago and said he’s no longer using a real Christmas tree, Harman notes.

Artificial trees, he points out, are a more economical choice for consumers since they can be reused for years.

“Regardless of the chosen type of tree, the impacts on the environment are negligible compared to other activities, such as car use,” the Ellipsos study said.

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