Real or Fake?

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As the holidays approach those of us who celebrate Christmas need to ask themselves a question: do we like them real or fake?

I mean, of course, the Christmas trees.

There are aesthetic and practical considerations, pros and cons as well as environmental issues. Let's look at those in this blog.

The Origin of the Fake Christmas Tree

Before we go there, though, I'd like to share what I recently read about the origin of fake Christmas trees, because it is a rather amusing story. Turns out, that the first fake Christmas trees were made in the early 1930s by a company called Addis Brush. Addis Brush wasn't in landscaping or agriculture; as the name suggests they were making brushes. But wait, not just any brushes, no: toilet scrubber and brushes. I hesitate to speculate how this all came about but somebody in the company must have at some point thought something along the lines of "now, if we just turn these things upside down, make them gigantic and paint them green we'll have a perfect Christmas tree."

And so they did.

I haven't done any further research to figure out how Addis Brush did but their invention sure took off.

The Numbers

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This blog can't do without numbers so let's get it over with. According to somewhat dated numbers by the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) (yes, there is such a thing) 79% of all US household will display a Christmas tree. Of these approx. 80% will be artificial and 20% real ("fake" seems to be a bit of a no-no term in the industry, artificial is the official term). The graph show here seems to contradict these numbers because more real trees are being sold every year than artificial ones. The conclusion on the site, namely that Americans prefer real Christmas trees, however ist still wrong ( seems to know things about statistics, but not about common sense) because fake, eehm, artificial trees aren't replaced every year. The above mentioned study by ACTA also showed that 55% of artificial tree buyers plan on using theirs for 10 years or more.

What is better?

Let's get to the point were we figure out wat to do: buy real or artificial?

Real trees:

remove CO2 from the atmosphere while they are growing

can be composted

grow and don't need raw materials such as plastic and metal

 But they also:

 need soil, water, pesticides to grow

need gasoline to harvest and transport them on a yearly basis

might end up in the landfill after all


Artificial trees

can be used many times over


use resources such as plastic, steel, and aluminum

require long haul shipping (mostly they are now manufactured in China)

can't be recycled and end up in the landfill

 Since we already had our dose of numbers today, let's skip right to the important part were we figure out what we should buy: real or fake?

And the winner is ...

... it depends.

On a one-on-one basis real is better. Real trees require a lot fewer resources to grow and reach their owners and, when composted, don't clog up landfills.

But as we found out above, most people reuse artificial Christmas trees so the question becomes: where is the break-even point?

Depending on whom you believe and how conservative or aggressive your estimates are the number is somewhere between 6 and 9 years. So if you use your artificial Christmas tree for 7/10 years, ideally more, then, environmentally speaking, you are doing better than those of us buying 7/10 (or more) real ones. And it will be cheaper too, and less hassle with the needles and the watering and the cleaning before and after.

I am still going to get a real one. This is how I grew up, real tree, real candles. I am still getting used to artificial lights, buying a fake tree would definitely be taking it too far.

GreenTina Baumgartner