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Fake vs. Real Christmas Trees? You Might Be Surprised at This Answer

November 25, 2011

NEW YORK - Many New Yorkers will be making the big decision over the Thanksgiving weekend: whether to buy an artificial or real Christmas tree – a choice with both environmental and economic impacts.

Bill Ulfelder, New York director of The Nature Conservancy, points out that natural Christmas trees provide major environmental benefits, including capturing global-warming emissions and preventing erosion. On the other hand, he says most 'fake' trees are manufactured abroad using polyvinyl chlorides (PVCs).

"Folks use an artificial tree for about five or six years – energy-intensive to produce, energy-intensive to ship – and then it just sits there in the landfill and doesn't biodegrade."

However, Ulfelder says twice as many Americans still buy artificial trees, which typically are imported from Asia. He adds there are many environmental advantages to using real Christmas trees.

"They capture climate-changing gases from the atmosphere, so they help abate climate change; they're putting oxygen into the air for us to breathe. They're good for wildlife mammals, birds, and insects."

This year, The Nature Conservancy also sees making the switch to a real tree as a benefit for the U.S. economy. Producing Christmas trees is a $1 billion industry that provides 100,000 jobs at more than 12,000 tree farms nationwide. In New York, they are located on Long Island, in the Hudson Valley, and upstate. Ulfelder says buying regionally helps farmers.

"My family and I, we're always looking to make sure we get a local tree. The other thing that's starting to happen is more and more organic Christmas trees - trees produced with no pesticides or herbicides, which also are better for the environment."

The Nature Conservancy's New York Christmas Tree Shopping Guide is online at Many farmers markets start offering the organic trees next week.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY