O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

When I was a child I eagerly anticipated going to get a Christmas tree. I can vividly remember trekking through the snow and endless rows trying to find the perfect one. When we finally found it, the joy of yelling “timber” and standing clear as the gigantic tree fell to the ground was thrilling. After, we would “help” drag it through the snow and back to the car. While my dad tied it to the roof, us kids would have cookies and orange drink or apple cider in the barn.

For me, the trek to get a Christmas tree also meant a trip to my grandparents’ house, as they, along with my aunt, started a Christmas tree farm in the 1980s.

ChristmasTreeFarm-SeedlingWhen I was 10, my family moved to the country and started our own Christmas tree farm. I learned first-hand all the work that goes into a growing a tree. I planted thousands of seedlings in the spring, trimmed and watered through the summer, and spent countless hours mowing between the rows. To this day, I still help out at the farm. The seedlings we plant are about a foot high and are already three years old; it takes another eight years on the farm before the tree is big enough to be cut down and taken home.

To me, the debate of natural versus artificial tree is easy. The winner is natural every time. However working in the waste management industry, I wanted to investigate the environmental implications of each option. I have tried to set aside my bias for this investigation and answer this tough question:

What has less of an environmental impact: artificial trees or natural trees?

On the artificial side, you have a tree that you can reuse year after year. That’s not the case with a natural tree, it’s a one hit wonder. However in Halton you can place your natural tree out to the curb for collection. Natural trees are brought to Halton Waste Management Site where it is chipped and turned into mulch for use in landscaping. Your loved Christmas tree can keep on giving all year round as mulch.

ChristmasTreeFarm-GrownA common concern associated with natural trees lies in removing part of the natural ecosystem. This is the greatest negative implication of natural Christmas trees. Yet I know on our farm if we didn’t grow trees, the land would either remain fallow or produce hay. Our trees are grown specifically for Christmas and are happily producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide the whole time they are growing. We replace each stump the following summer by grinding it up and planting a new tree. While chopping down a tree is never good for the environment, especially the micro-ecosystem that lives there, these trees are grown for this purpose.

Artificial trees are produced using PVC, a type of plastic and are often manufactured in China then shipped to North America. At the end of their life, they are not recyclable since they are made up of multiple materials including, PVC, metal and electrical wire. Unfortunately, artificial trees must be landfilled.

Still I wouldn’t rely on my opinion alone. I came across a study done by Ellipsos, a consulting company in Montreal, and backed by the David Suzuki Foundation. The study compares the environmental implications of purchasing a natural tree versus an artificial tree which is assumed to last six years. It concludes:

“A Life Cycle Assessment was performed to guide the environmentally conscious consumers on their choice of Christmas tree. The natural tree is a better option than the artificial tree, in particular with respect to impacts on climate change and resource depletion. The natural tree, however, is not a perfect solution as it results in important impacts on ecosystem quality. Clients who prefer using the artificial tree can reduce their impacts on all categories by increasing the life span of their tree, ideally over 20 years.”

Therefore both a natural tree and an artificial tree have environmental implications. However a natural tree is best unless you’re keeping the artificial for 20 years or more.

So how about trying a natural Christmas tree this year? Find a local Christmas tree farm and make an adventure out of it. Let us know how it went in the comments below.  Don’t forget to check your collection calendar for your curbside Christmas tree collection days in January. Remember to remove all decorations and plastic bags before placing at the curb.

About Amy Hartman

Hi, I’m Amy, the GreenCart Program Coordinator. I’m new to the Waste Management team and loving every second of it. My background includes a Bachelor of Science and Business from the University of Waterloo. At Halton I deal with everything involving the GreenCart, from single family homes to townhouses and apartments. I enjoy the smell of compost and helping residents overcome any GreenCart problems. Halton has some of the best trails around and in my spare time I look for forward to running and biking them.
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3 Responses to O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

  1. Great blog post Amy! We always choose natural.

  2. Amy Hartman says:

    Thanks Elizabeth! Excellent choice, you can’t beat the wonderful smell too!

  3. Pingback: All we want for Christmas… are environmentally friendly presents | HaltonRecycles

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