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Natural Decision: Benefits of Real Christmas Trees

Washington state ranks fourth in the nation for Christmas tree production. (Brian Mize/The Nature Conservancy)
Washington state ranks fourth in the nation for Christmas tree production. (Brian Mize/The Nature Conservancy)
December 4, 2017

CLE ELUM, Wash. – With the holiday season here, many Washingtonians have an important decision to make:

Should they buy a real or artificial Christmas tree?

While it may seem as though cutting down a tree is not a green decision, there are actually benefits for the environment and local communities.

Darcy Batura, Central Cascades community coordinator for The Nature Conservancy of Washington, says artificial trees typically are manufactured in China, take a lot of resources to transport here and are made from a material that is not biodegradable, meaning once it ends up in a landfill, it stays there for centuries.

"The reason for a real tree is that while it's alive it's storing carbon, it's providing habitat and producing oxygen, and then after we enjoy it, it can be chipped and used as compost that then feeds the soil for years," she explains.

Washington ranks fourth in the nation for Christmas-tree production, with about 400 farms across the state.

Batura says families run most of the farms, so buying from them supports small businesses. It's an $18 million dollar industry.

There are other ways to get real trees and help the environment as well. Washingtonians can purchase a $5 permit from the U.S. Forest Service to cut down their own.

Batura says folks might feel guilty about cutting a tree in the forest.

"However, here in Washington state, there are 2.7 million acres of public forest land that is in desperate need of restoration thinning,” she points out. “So when you go out and select a tree that's part of a clump where they're just too dense, you're actually doing the forest and the trees a favor but thinning that tree and taking it home."

Batura adds that some people may choose artificial trees because they're affected by allergens from real trees.

In that case, she advises people to keep it around for a long time. It takes 20 years to offset the environmental impact of manufacturing and shipping that tree.

Batura says Washingtonians can be even greener by using LED lights, which consume less power, and making their own ornaments.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA