Oh, Fake Christmas Tree What's better for the environment, fake Christmas trees or real ones?
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Oh, Fake Christmas Tree

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Oh, Fake Christmas Tree

Oh, Fake Christmas Tree

Oh, Fake Christmas Tree

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What's better for the environment, fake Christmas trees or real ones?


So it is that lovely time of the year when you wrap your home in holiday decorations, some mistletoe, some garland, and, of course, the beloved holiday tree - maybe a Frazier Fur, a white pine, a K-Mart 29.99 special with built-in lights.


Now, amidst the messages of joy and peace, there is a great divide, one that pits families against families, parents against children, Martha Stewart against Amy Sedaris, real versus fake trees.

MARTIN: We at THE BPP thought it was high time for a hard-hitting investigative piece on the truth behind the - down at the science behind your tree. Which is better for the environment, better for your kids, safer in your home?

STEWART: The guy who has run the numbers is Brendan Koerner of Slate magazine - Slate.com, I'm sorry. Brendan has done the math at every angle of the industry. So in the subject of being green with your tree choice, he laid out which tree wins in the carbon footprint battle when it comes to gas use to get said tree.

Mr. BRENDAN KOERNER (Writer, Slate.com): I would say that fake did buy the slimmest of margins. And that the major assumption there as I was going with the industry estimate that are fake trees last 15 years. And I'm actually kind of skeptical that people hold on to their fake trees for 15 years, especially the cheaper ones you buy at K-Mart or somewhere like that. And it was only the really high-end fake trees that last that long.

STEWART: Mm. Kind of a draw.

MARTIN: Hmm. Now, when debating fake versus real, you have to address the material's angle. Now, I'm willing to say that real trees win that one hands down. Not exactly a scientific assessment, I realized. But fake trees do take a back punch when you find out what those synthetic beauties are actually made of.

Mr. KOERNER: Fake trees are generally made up of polyvinyl chloride or PVC and that's really a kind of environmental boogeyman because of the emissions involved in the production process, particularly dioxins, which can be carcinogenic. I'd also like to point out that a lot of the cheapest trees that, you know, that are made in China, they're often stabilized with lead. And as the trees age, you know, that lead can break free as dust that can be inhaled.

MARTIN: I did not know that. Very disturbing.

STEWART: Now, some agricultural experts believe that real trees can cause oil erosion and many argue that farm culture might be better served by working on renewable energy sources or food production.

MARTIN: But the authored(ph) deforestation argument that the Christmas tree industry is robbing our forest of essential pines, not so much true. For every tree we chopped down in the name of temporary decoration, three or more are planted in its place.

STEWART: All right. So we've covered energy, efficiency, materials and deforestation. How about safety? Which tree is going to send your home up in flames should the tiny bulbs short out because your cat, say, name is Sonny Liston, like the cat in my house, enjoys the flavor of electrical cords?

Mr. KOERNER: Both sides interestingly enough attack the other for having the more flammable product. Fake tree makers do claim that while these aren't as flammable whereas the real tree industry has spend a lot of money promoting that the idea that fake trees can burn as well.

MARTIN: The lobbying groups on both sides pull nasty attack stunts. In 2004, the National Christmas Tree Association actually created an attack campaign, saying the first fake Christmas trees were created by a company that made toilet brushes.

Hmm. Okay. So nothing super conclusive on this aside from that, now, every time I see a Christmas, I'm going to associate it with toilet bristles. Gross.

STEWART: That concludes our BPP holiday tree investigation and the science barely sides with the real trees. The final score: fake trees, zero; real trees, one.

If you're still not convinced, Brendan did tell us that many municipalities offer trees for rent during the holidays, which are then planted in parks after the festivity has died down. That's what my parents do. They have trees that can replant.

MARTIN: You can also purchase your own potted tree to plant. But it might mean you miss out on the traditional pine since you want that tree to be indigenous.

STEWART: You can get more details on this story, of course, at our blog, npr.org/bryantpark. Merry Christmas.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Stay with us. Somewhere out there, there's a guy in a Santa suit handing out hundred dollar bills.


(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: It's secret. He's the ultimate secret Santa. We're going to tell you about him.

STEWART: And if we have a little bit of time, we have some of our favorite Christmas songs. This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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