Real vs. artificial: Which option is better for the planet?

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Image for post
Photo by Matthew Henry via Burst

If Christmas trees are at the center of your holiday decorations, you might be deciding between a real or artificial tree. But is either one actually better for the environment? We know you hate to hear this, but it’s complicated. Let’s break it down.

Grown vs. manufactured

Artificial Christmas trees are made mainly with steel and two types of plastic, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polypropylene, according to a 2018 life cycle analysis (LCA) by WAP Sustainability Consulting, a firm specializing in LCAs and carbon management for businesses. The American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA), which represents artificial tree manufacturers, commissioned the study.

Mining iron ore and making steel from it, and extracting and refining petroleum to make plastic, both lead to air and water pollution. Then comes the energy-intensive process of making and assembling the tree. Per the 2018 study, manufacturing consumes 247 megajoules of non-renewable energy — enough to power the average American home for 2.4 days. It also releases sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides, gases that pollute and acidify the air, and has a carbon footprint equivalent to 7 kilograms of coal burned. …

Laid off and stuck at home, Amy Brown helped inspire her neighbors’ children

Three kids with their backs to the viewer, looking at dozens of drawings taped to the wall in front of them.
Three kids with their backs to the viewer, looking at dozens of drawings taped to the wall in front of them.
Photo: Amy Brown

Last April, as the world was coming to grips with the magnitude of the coronavirus, Amy Brown passed through the courtyard of her San Jose apartment building. Up in a tree, isolated from other people and the ground, six-year-old Erik sat humming to himself. He seemed content up there, but also somewhat lonely and different from the energetic kid she knew him to be.

That’s when an idea struck that would change how she, Erik, and their community would live through the pandemic.

An artistic hummingbird, Brown has always been involved in different creative pursuits. She has a degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing, writes poetry, owns a plush toy company, and is a crafts instructor for children and adults. Before Covid-19 hit, she maintained exhibits at the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. When the museum shut down, she, like many people around the world, was left dealing with the terrifying prospect of an uncertain future. …

Mariana Zapata

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