Sunday, 19 December 2010

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

I love real Christmas trees, they look better than artificial ones by not being perfectly symmetrical, have a nice smell and interact better with you (by dropping needles all over the place (I quite like this). I feel guilty every year though; chopping down a tree to have in my house for about two weeks before discarding it to landfill. They are perhaps the ultimate example of of our convenience disposable society. Should I buy an artificial tree? They must be more environmentally sound? Well.. No!

Real trees do not come from a random guy walking into a wood with a chain saw. They are farmed and consequently for each one cut down at least one is planted to replacement indeed the more we buy the more will be planted, so no deforestation going on here. But... Real trees will be sprayed with pesticides during there growth damaging biodiversity and polluting water courses.

For the years they are growing real trees remove carbon from the atmosphere, I don't have any figures but they probably remove more than is expended in transporting them to our houses during the festive season. The manufacture of artificial trees uses energy and then the carbon footprint is increased by shipping them halfway across the world (most are made in China). So unless you plan to drive to the tree farm to collect your tree on carbon footprint terms it's a big win for real trees.

Then there is what there made of. Real trees are made or err... wood so that's OK. Artificial trees are made of poly vinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is made from vinyl chloride which is not only energy intensive to produce  but very toxic, volatile, and difficult to handle. Also as the PVC is often made in China where environmental standards are lax to say the least, it is highly probable that the manufacture of PVC will be polluting the local environment and water supply. Worse phthalates are added to PVC as plasticisers (chemicals which make plastic bendy), phthalates are one of the suspected culprits for the falling sperm counts in men as they can mimic hormones. Don't go chewing on your tree guys.

Yes real trees are disposed of to landfill but they are after all made of wood and will rot just as they would have don't if they had died in the wild. Your average artificial tree will last five to ten years but will then either need to be recycled (more carbon footprint) or burned/buried (likely to release highly toxic chlorinated dioxins).

There you have it, go forth and buy a real tree. Better still one with roots on which you can use again next year.


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