Real Christmas trees are okay

The verdict is in: It’s okay to have a real Christmas tree – yes, the kind you cut down.

That’s according to the National Christmas Tree Association and my informal Yammer, Facebook and Twitter poll on tree choice. The breakdown:

Real tree: 74 percent
Fake: 15 percent
No tree: 11 percent

Although the poll was about respondents’ outright choice, many commented on the sustainability considerations. Lest you think the survey too lightweight, know that some heavy hitters took part.

A prominent New England horticulturalist:

“Buying locally grown trees help keep farms/crops alive. I like to make ornaments that the birds can enjoy and put the tree outside my window after the holidays to extend its life.”

A forester for the U.S. government:

“If you buy from a local grower, you are helping to preserve open space – the loss of which is arguably one of our most pressing environmental concerns in the Northeast. The grower is making a modest profit (compared to growing condos).”

The NCTA asserts that artificial trees contain dangerous chemicals, are imported all the way from China, and consume natural resources of their own in their manufacture.

The joy of real

In addition to the green benefits, many poll respondents prize the tradition, the scent, and the sheer joy (especially for kids) of having a real Christmas tree. Several mentioned felling it themselves and recycling it afterwards. Approximately 25-30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (more stats).

Four of the 27 respondents to my poll prefer manufactured trees, yet only one does it for environmental reasons.

“We don’t like cutting a fresh tree every year. We figure one batch of plastic re-used for 20 years beats 20 trees on the environmental scale.”

The American Christmas Tree Association, not to be confused with the aforementioned National Christmas Tree Association, agrees with this position, saying that over a 10-year span, the carbon footprint of one artificial tree is smaller than consuming 10 real ones. Moreover, it says, the PVC in artificial trees is safe enough for water pipes and plastic wrap.

For real-tree advocates, however, the Tannenbaum is the soul of Christmas, and it shouldn’t come from Wal-Mart. It’s one of the last vestiges of real in a holiday dominated by electronics, licensed characters, parking lot wars, Manheim Steamroller and pathological consumption. For them, a real tree promises a real Christmas. So it’s good to hear that real trees are at least green enough for people wanting to do right by the environment.

What kind of tree are you getting? Post a comment explaining why.