Real vs. artificial holiday trees: which is the greener choice?

By Matt Riggs, Solid Waste Management District outreach coordinator

christmas-tree-227014_1280Every holiday season we hear the same question: is it better for the environment to buy a real tree or an artificial tree? Currently, of all the American households displaying trees, 80 percent are artificial trees and 20 percent are real.

A recent study — sponsored by the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) and conducted by third-party international research firm PE International — showed that purchasing either a real or artificial tree has a negligible impact on the environment. However, the study found that length of ownership, disposal method and “tree miles” can make a difference on which tree is environmentally preferable.

ACTA encourages consumers to consider five helpful tips when deciding which tree to buy this year:

  • If you buy a real tree, buy from a local farm if possible.
  • Consider “tree miles” — How far the tree had to travel to get to the store or farm, and how far you had to travel to get it.
  • Consider purchasing an artificial tree to minimize your environmental impacts if you have purchased more than nine live trees in the last nine years.
  • If you own an artificial tree, plan to use it for at least six to nine years.  If you replace an artificial tree, donate the old one instead of disposing it.
  • Properly dispose of your natural holiday tree. Find local disposal services at RecycleSpot.org!

Missouri bans the disposal of real holiday trees and greenery, just like it does other yard waste materials, and Kansas discourages the practice. Area communities, businesses and organizations offer a number of ways to recycle those trees instead of trashing them. These services divert materials from landfills while creating resources that can be used for a variety of purposes. For example, trees can be shredded into mulch that is used for trail surfaces, erosion control and landscaping, or left whole to create fish habitats in area lakes.

To ensure a pure recycling stream and protect workers and machinery, it’s very important to remove lights, decorations, plastic bags, stands, metal frames, nails and wire from trees and greenery before recycling them.

For more information on where to donate your artificial tree or recycle your real tree and greenery, visit RecycleSpot.org or call (816) 474-4326.

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