WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — This holiday season could be
especially “green” as tree growers anticipate a busy 2013 sales period, partly
because of the public’s increasing concern for the environment, a Purdue
Extension wood products specialist said.
Still, the debate over whether real trees or artificial
trees are better for the environment continues, said Daniel Cassens, a professor
of forestry and natural resources.
“The season is off to an excellent start, with the shorter
selling season between Thanksgiving and Christmas partially responsible,” said
Cassens, who also is a member of the National Christmas Tree Growers
Thanksgiving, on Nov. 28, was a few days later than usual
More than $1 billion in real trees will be sold in the U.S.,
the vast majority from Thanksgiving weekend through the first two weeks of
December, Cassens said.
About 28 million real trees are sold in the U.S. each year,
and 200,000 choose-and-cut Christmas trees will be sold in Indiana this
While many customers return to farms each year to cut their
own tree because of the enjoyable family experience, Cassens said he is seeing
two categories of new customers:
* Young couples or singles who have never had a real tree before — Purdue
Extension has a free publication, Tips
for First-time Buyers of Real Christmas Trees , available at
Cassens suggested that people needing more information about
Christmas trees or how to find a choose-and-cut tree farm should visit the
National Christmas Tree Growers Association website at
* Those concerned about the environment — Cassens noted tree growers point
out that their product is renewable, each species has its own characteristic
odor, consumes carbon dioxide and gives off oxygen, can be recycled, provides
wildlife habitat and creates jobs in rural America.
Artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and
possible metal toxins, and most are made outside the U.S. and must be shipped
long distances, he said.
The artificial-tree industry, however, points out that its
product can be reused, saving real trees from being cut down, Cassens said. The
industry also notes that its trees do not need fertilizers or pesticides.
“These are just examples of claims being made by two
distinctly different industries,” Cassens said.
It is difficult to determine which type of tree is better
for the environment because there is only one documented study comparing how
they impact the environment, specifically in the amount of carbon dioxide
attributed to them, Cassens said. That study was done in 2009 by the Canadian
environmental consulting company Ellipsos Inc.
Carbon dioxide is important because it traps heat from the
Earth’s surface in what is commonly called the “greenhouse effect.”
The study concluded that a 7-foot real Christmas tree grown
south of Montreal accounted for 53 pounds of carbon dioxide after all production
factors such as labor, use of machinery and transportation were considered. The
study assumed that the tree was grown in a nursery for four years and in a field
for 11 years.
Cassens said a 7-foot Indiana tree probably would result in
less carbon being released because such a tree typically comes from 2-year-old
nursery stock and grows in a field for about seven years.
The carbon dioxide associated with a 6-foot artificial tree,
according to the study, amounted to 106 pounds — twice as much as the real tree.
Cassens noted that most of the carbon release was from the
manufacturing and transportation of the tree by ship from China to Vancouver and
then by train to Montreal.
“The study goes on to conclude that considering climate
change impact along with environmental and public health impact, real trees
appear to be a better choice for a responsible customer and that artificial
trees must be displayed for more than 20 years in order for it to compare
favorably with the real Christmas tree,” he said.