Real or fake tree? That is the question on environmentalists' minds around Christmas (at least, the minds of those enviro types who celebrate Christmas).
Personally, I love, love, LOVE everything about the holiday season. I freely admit that in July, if a Christmas song shuffles onto my iPod playlist, I often let it play.
But I'm not down with the amount of waste that accompanies Christmas, and every year, the "corpocracy" (to steal a term from Cloud Atlas) seems to be encouraging us to consume more each holiday season. In fact, you could probably replace almost every single item in your house (dishes, sheets, pyjamas, vases, candles, toiletries, towels ...) with a "holiday" version of said item.
Christmas trees, while beautiful and joyous, can contribute to the consumerism of the holiday and the general waste. In order to enjoy the festive spirit greenly, we can try to choose a tree that makes the least impact possible. However, each household has to consider what will work in their situation - there's not a one-size-fits-all solution to getting the "greenest" tree.
Advantages: A live tree with roots still attached is probably the gold standard of eco-friendly trees. You can re-plant it after Christmas! What's more eco than that?
Disadvantages: Live trees shouldn't be out of the ground for significant amounts of time, and they aren't suited to all environments -- you can't just plant a pine tree anywhere in America and hope it will thrive. Also, there are many parts of the U.S. (parts where pine trees would be happy to grow) where the ground is frozen in winter, making planting impractical. For these reasons, a live tree isn't an option for a lot of busy families.
"Real" Cut Trees
Advantages: Cut trees, in general, have a lower impact on the environment than "fake" trees. Like all trees, they help keep our atmosphere clean. These days you can buy organic trees in many places, although you'll often spend a pretty penny for them. In the Northwest, where I'm from, many people skirt the cost of buying organic by simply going out into the woods and cutting a tree. Not, probably, legal in the strictest sense of the word, but people in the Northwest tend to be independent thinkers.
Disadvantages: Commercially-produced Christmas trees have all the disadvantages of commercial agriculture - pesticides, soil degradation, etc. Some cities and towns have the capability to turn trees into mulch - but not all, leading to those trees that sit on the roadside for months.
Advantages: You can re-use them year after year, so if you keep the same tree, you're producing less waste than if you keep upgrading. Thrift stores are filled with used trees at a variety of price points, but you can usually get a full-sized one for under $30 - a huge savings for both the environment and your pocketbook.
Disadvantages: Most fake trees are made of PVC, which is one of the most environmentally-deleterious kinds of plastic. For this reason, you should think carefully about buying a brand new fake tree. When fake trees come into your home and are unwrapped, they can off gas chemicals - like other large manufactured items you might bring home.
So, having moved to "The Farm" and having room for a full-sized tree, I had to decide what would be best for me. While I grew up with cut trees, I simply don't have the time to maintain a tree. And because I often travel during the holidays, it's not a practical choice for me; nor is a live tree.
I went the thrift store route and bought a very un-fancy tree with lights already on it (seen above) from Goodwill. It's not exactly high-class, but I feel good that I'm able to re-use something that (I hope) already brought someone a lot of joy.