Grandparents making christmas tree
(CNN)-This is the time of the year when most Americans finish their Thanksgiving leftovers and risk finding the best holiday sales. More importantly, they planned the home center of this season: the Christmas tree.
Although some people revel in the smell of real trees and the fun of picking a tree on a local farm, others prefer the simplicity of artificial trees, which can be reused in the coming Christmas.
But consumers are becoming more and more climate aware, and considering which tree will have the least impact on our rapidly warming planet has become an important part of the holiday decision. In addition, choosing an earth-friendly tree may put you on Santa’s good list.
So, which tree has the lowest carbon footprint-a natural tree or a plastic tree purchased in a store? Experts say this is complicated.
Andy Fenton, director of landscape conservation and forest ecologist at The Nature Conservancy of Massachusetts, told CNN: "This is definitely more subtle and more complicated than you think."
Before you choose between real and man-made, we have made a list of things to know-and checked it twice.
It is easy to imagine that reusing artificial trees year after year is a more sustainable option. But Fenton said that if the artificial tree is used for less than six years, the carbon cost will be higher than the cost of investing in natural trees.
"If artificial trees last longer, this balance will change," Fenton told CNN. "And I have read that it takes 20 years for the carbon balance to reach the same level."
This is because artificial trees are usually made of polyvinyl chloride plastic or PVC. Plastics are petroleum-based and are produced in heavily polluted petrochemical facilities. The research also links PVC plastics to cancer and other public health and environmental risks.
Then there is traffic. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, most artificial Christmas trees are imported from China to the U.S. This means that these products are carried by fossil fuel-powered ships across the Pacific Ocean, then transported by heavy freight trucks, and finally arrive on the shelves of distributors or consumers. At the door of the house.
The American Christmas Tree Association, a non-profit organization representing artificial tree manufacturers, commissioned WAP Sustainability Consulting in 2018 to conduct a study that found that if you use fake trees for at least five years, artificial trees will have a better environmental impact than real trees.
Jami Warner, executive director of ACTA, told CNN: "[In the study] factors such as manufacturing and overseas transportation have been considered, and artificial trees have been studied." Trees, their field cultivation period is about seven to eight years."
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, on average, it takes seven years for a Christmas tree to fully grow. As it grows, it will absorb carbon dioxide from the air. Protecting forests and planting trees can help avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis by removing the gases that cause global warming from the atmosphere.
If trees are felled or burned, they can release stored carbon back into the atmosphere. But Doug Hendry, a spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association, which advocates for real trees, said that when farmers immediately planted more saplings to replace them, the act of cutting down Christmas trees from the farm was offset.
"When we harvest or cut down trees, we will quickly replant them," Hendry said.
If the idea of hiking through the forest to find the perfect tree is interesting, you can purchase a permit from the U.S. Forest Service, which encourages people to cut down their own trees instead of buying artificial ones. According to Recreation.gov, cutting down sparse trees in dense areas can improve forest health.
But Fenton does not recommend pulling Clark Griswold and cutting down a big tree to drag it home-especially if it is in an area you are not allowed to enter. Instead, he suggested buying a tree from a local farm.
"For me, the benefits of going to the Christmas tree farm are different from cutting trees in the forest. It concentrates the effects of felling trees in one place," he said. "It makes farmers responsible for regenerating these trees."
Going to nature also has economic benefits, because most of the trees that people eventually get are planted on nearby farms. According to the American Christmas Tree Association, there are approximately 15,000 farms growing Christmas trees in the United States alone, and the industry employs more than 100,000 full- or part-time workers.
“What we have done by buying natural Christmas trees is supporting the local economy, local communities, and local farmers. For me, this is a key part of the conservation equation,” Fenton said. "When tree growers can get financial benefits from their land, they are less likely to sell it for development, nor are they likely to convert it to other uses."
After the holidays, trees pile up on the roadside, and the final destination in many places is landfills, where they emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is about 80 times more effective than carbon dioxide.
"It is very discouraged for real Christmas trees to end up in the landfill," Hendry said, adding that "a separate area of the yard garbage where the Christmas tree can go is needed."
But some towns and cities reuse trees to benefit the climate and the environment. In New York City, trees left on the side of the road during a certain period of time are picked up for recycling or composting. The city health department also launched an initiative called "MulchFest", where residents can cut down their trees for mulch and use it to nourish other trees throughout the city.
"After the tree is used by the homeowner, it is very easy and common in the United States to chop the tree into mulch-and then put the stored carbon back into the ground," Hundley added.
Fenton also said that the old Christmas trees can be reused for habitat restoration; if they are placed on the banks of streams and rivers, they can help control erosion, and if they are placed in rivers and lakes, they can even help underwater habitats to thrive. live.
The end of life of artificial trees is very different. They end up in landfills-where they can take hundreds of years to decompose-or release hazardous chemicals in incinerators.
Weigh the pros and cons of the complex climate, the real Christmas tree has advantages. But if you choose to decorate your hall artificially, get a tree you will love and reuse it for many years.
Fenton said that either way, people should be satisfied with their decision and find other ways to deal with the climate crisis.
"This is a debate, but once you make a decision, you should be satisfied with your decision, because there are many other things we can do in our lives, and these things have a greater impact on the climate-like driving less. Or advocating policies to expand renewable energy," Fenton said. "Enjoy the holidays and focus on other aspects of life to reduce the impact of climate change."
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