Christmas Trees: Fresh or Fake?

Over the past couple of years, The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky gave away hand cut Christmas trees as a way of advancing an important conservation strategy. Cutting down Eastern Red Cedars at the Jim Beam Nature Preserve thinned out the landscape so that planted and volunteer deciduous trees could survive and thrive in their native habitat. In fact, the strategy was so successful, that the Conservancy no longer had trees to give away when the holidays rolled around in 2012.

That doesn’t mean that past participants should forgo a fresh Christmas tree this year. It’s actually a good choice to make for the environment. In fact, during a time of instant communications and conflicting messages, this is one is crystal clear: You don’t need to feel bad about choosing a real tree for Christmas.

Christmas trees prove to be a very renewable resource, with more than 400 million growing on tree farms across the nation – more than the entire U.S. population. Each year tree farmers cut down approximately 10% of these trees to sell during the holiday season. For every Christmas tree that is cut down, tree farmers plant between one and three seedlings.

While they grow, usually about one foot per year, the Christmas trees collectively clean the air and water, provide habitat for animals, buffer the landscape from extreme weather and absorb carbon from the atmosphere. The business of growing Christmas trees also benefits local growers and economies.

On the other hand, shipping fake Christmas trees from overseas where eighty-five percent of them are manufactured leaves an enormous carbon footprint on the planet. So do their ingredients, mainly polyvinyl chloride -- a type of plastic that is very difficult to return to nature.

After they are unpacked from the basement or attic for an average of five or six years, most fake Christmas trees up in a landfill. That’s not the case with fresh cut trees, which can be immediately returned to nature after the holidays are over. (Check with your local city government website for schedules and rules related to the pick-up and composting of used Christmas trees.)

The choice is clear – a cut-down Christmas tree is better for the environment than a fake tree. So keep it real, and don’t stop there! From the tree topper down to the gifts, make choices that take it easier on the planet while filling hearts with great joy. In fact, consider giving the gift of an experience such as a kayaking trip on the Green River, a camping trip to one of Kentucky’s state parks, or a day out at one of The Nature Conservancy’s preserves. The recipient will thank you, and the planet surely will.


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