Is a real tree more sustainable than an artificial one?
Let's face it, everyone has a responsibility to take care of our one and only home: Earth. You may wonder what the most environmentally friendly option is for purchasing a tree next Christmas, we'll break it down for you below.
When a live Christmas tree is going through its' growing cycle, it is actively taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. Each tree that's grown is planted on farms that plant between 800-1,200 trees per acre. In Michigan alone there are 37,000 acres of Christmas trees growing at any given moment; do some quick math and you can see that 29.6 million trees are growing in the Great Lakes state alone.
For the United States as a whole, there are approximately 350,000 acres dedicated to growing Christmas trees. This means that there are 280 million trees growing on farms across the country.
According to carbonpirates, each young tree under the age of 10 will absorb and store thirteen pounds of carbon for each year that it grows. Applying this figure to the total number of Christmas trees growing at any given moment in the United States, you'll find that Christmas tree farming takes 3.6 billion pounds (1.63 megatons) of carbon out of the atmosphere each year.
This means that the Christmas tree industry in the United States alone completely offsets the carbon footprint from the countries of Greenland, Dominica, The British Virgin Islands, and Antigua & Barbuda -with some carbon sequestration to spare.1
Each tree takes a unique path being transported from a field to your living room; transportation is the leading cause for fossil fuel emissions. That being said; the most sustainable option for purchasing a tree is to ride a bike to a local forest and cut your tree down with a hand saw. Good exercise? Yes. Realistic? Not really. Convenient? Definitely not.
So, the second best alternative is to visit a local choose- and-cut tree farm. The shorter drive will ensure that less carbon is emitted from your automobile and less carbon is emitted from the possible transportation of your tree from a separate field to the tree lot.
However, what happens if you're not close to a choose-and-cut tree lot? That's where we come in. At Packaged Pines, we ship from one central location in order to both limit emissions and cut out unnecessary short haul shipping complications. Also, we only ship through intermediaries that are committed to sustainable practices.
In addition to this, we've partnered with OneTreePlanted OneTreePlanted allows us to effectively offset our carbon footprint that we incur through any of our growing or shipping processes. When you purchase a tree from Packaged Pines, our farmers will plant between 1 to 3 trees to replenish and grow the size of our fields; but with OneTreePlanted, an additional tree will be planted for each purchase. These trees are planted in areas all across the globe where over-logging and deforestation has taken place.
This insures that your decision to purchase a real tree only has a positive impact on our atmosphere.
The production life of an artificial tree is considerably shorter than that of a real one. During this production time, several different materials are used, mainly steel and polyvinyl chloride (PVC.) Steel is used in producing the frame and stand that makes up the artificial tree, the PVC makes up the needles and other places on the tree that are organic in appearance.
According to Sightline.org the refinement of the materials artificial trees need in order to be created can release up to 88 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In addition to emitting large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the production of PVC can release strong gasses such as vinyl chloride, vinylidene chloride, and vinyl acetate. All of which prove to be toxic to humans.
As with most of the purchases we make in North America, artificial Christmas trees are manufactured and imported from China. This means that the cost of production stays very low, offering customers very affordable sale prices. This also offers companies more flexibility and opportunity to invest in products so that they better suite their customers.
The issue? Emissions. The trip across the pacific and any subsequent journeys that a tree makes in order to find it's way into a warehouse or box store release an incredible amount of carbon dioxide. 9 pounds per tree to be exact.
One of the main components of artificial trees is the PVC plastic needles and branch features. These are made with either steel or copper framing in order to boost structural rigidity. So, someone may have an artificial tree that looks like it's made almost completely out of plastic (disregarding the metal stand) when in fact, there's a lot more metal to the tree. It's widely known that PVC like plastics are some of the most commonly recycled plastics we use today. The problem is because of the metal framing these trees have, fully recycling them at scale is next to impossible.
For the plastic elements of the tree to be recycled and the metal elements to be smelted down into other things, there needs to be a separation between them. This is pretty tough to do; the trees have many intricate details to them, sometimes including lights.
Because of these difficulties involved with recycling, all artificial trees will be sent to a landfill once they're deemed non-functional by their owners. The eventual decomposition of these trees will not only prolong a mess wherever they're thrown but they'll release micro plastics into the environment that have incredibly negative consequences for waterways.
Artificial trees produce the largest production footprint out of the two options. Also, their production creates an opportunity for more emissions when passed through a shipping intermediary. On the other hand, real trees actually take carbon out of the atmosphere and replace it with oxygen. In addition to this, optimal soil conditions for Christmas trees are those of very rocky and hilly areas; places where other crops are unable to grow. This means that real Christmas trees also aid in the effective usage of all farmland.
There is one environmental drawback to purchasing a real tree: shipping emissions. This is our reasoning for partnering with OneTreePlanted. By planting a tree in a natural environment where it will never be cut down, we fully erase our carbon footprint; we are carbon neutral.