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Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Get a real tree this year if you want to be on Santa’s nice list

Deck the halls with boughs of Balsam Fir


By MOLLY THOMPSON — mmtthompson@ucdavis.edu


It’s the central, time-worn discussion of the modern era. Every year, we hear exhaustive takes from all of the most reputable and renowned sources, ranging from the uncle you see once a year to the single person left running Buzzfeed: Is it better to get a real Christmas tree or a plastic one?

Now, this is a multi-faceted dilemma. We have to take into consideration cost, practicality, aesthetics, tradition and environmental sustainability. Depending on your retailer of choice, live trees cost around 80 to 100 dollars, while faux ones go for anywhere from 50 to thousands of dollars. But, of course, the natural caveat is that a plastic tree can be reused, right?

In the long run, a plastic tree can be more cost-effective. However, this depends on how long you’re going to use it and how long it’s going to last. A cheap fake tree is likely to disintegrate just as a real one eventually does, and you’d have to use an expensive one for 40 or so years before it would pay for itself. Naturally, it is possible to straddle the middle ground between both ends of that spectrum, but, as a whole, plastic trees are not necessarily more frugal compared to their live counterparts.

In terms of practicality, a faux tree requires a lot of storage space. It only gets its moment in the spotlight for a few measly weeks out of the long, arduous year, which means it needs a suitable place to hibernate during the off-season. If you don’t have a place for it to stay, the live tree is your perfect solution. When its time is up, you simply have to lay it out on the curb and forget about it — easy peasy Christmas trees-y.

Aesthetically, retail conglomerates know what you want. They’ll frost your plastic tree’s tips like it’s 1999 and light it up in a way that’ll make Fall Out Boy jealous (their songs know what you did in the dark). So convenient! But nothing can rival the real thing when it comes to vibes. The thing about a fake tree is that, simply put, it looks fake.

If you want to live like the people in the movie “The Lorax,” then by all means, put a plastic tree covered in plastic snow in your living room. But, if you want to have your dreamy, cozy, Nutcracker, hot-shot-city-gal-is-forced-to-visit-a-small-town-to-destroy-the-local-candy-shop-but-falls-in- love-with-the-hunky-owner-of-said-candy-shop-and-restores-the-magic-of-Christmas Hallmark movie holiday, get a live tree. It looks fresh, lively and spirited, and it smells like what Bath and Body Works festive candles wish they could be.

Furthermore, a trip to a Christmas tree farm is a bonding experience. A plastic tree gets dragged out of the attic and that’s it, no fanfare, no celebration, no joy when it could be a whole event.

Let me take you there: you and your family pile into your car, wearing the Santa hats your mom insisted on. Your sister is on aux, and soon you’re all singing along to Mariah Carey and Bing Crosby, with the occasional Ariana Grande cover. Once you get there, you wander around, arguing about whether the tree should be tall or fat or fluffy or otherwise until you find one you all agree is perfect (read: you all settle on a suitable tree because you’ve been there for too long and you’re tired). You’re dubbed the winner because you found the perfect tree — congratulations. Your dad and grandpa struggle to haul the giant tree on top of the car and strap it in nice and tight before you stop for hot chocolates on the way home. Classic holiday cheer. You don’t get any of those wonderful, warm holiday memories to cherish from a fake tree.

Now, the most important reason you should consider cutting down your own tree this year instead of buying a fake one is the fact that they’re more environmentally friendly. I know the classic argument is that a plastic tree is better because you don’t have to decapitate one of Mother Earth’s precious younglings, but that’s not necessarily true.

For one, fake trees are often manufactured internationally and shipped from across the world, dumping tons of CO2 into the atmosphere along the way. The manufacturing process of plastic trees also burns massive amounts of fossil fuels, releasing quantities of carbon emissions that would make even the Grinch squirm. Natural trees absorb CO2 during their entire lives as they grow big and tall before they get cut down for the holidays. Natural trees are also biodegradable and will decompose quite quickly, while fake trees will end up in a landfill forever or until they break down into microplastics and end up in our food and water supplies.

You don’t want to eat your Christmas tree, do you? Yes, your plastic tree can be reused, but eventually, it goes to waste. It likely won’t be recycled, and it will still have a higher carbon footprint than a live tree, even if you use it for years. A plastic tree will put CO2  into the atmosphere while cutting down a live tree will simply remove a vessel that was absorbing a small amount of CO2  — it’s not comparable. Additionally, higher demand for live trees means more trees will be planted, which is ultimately a good thing.

With all that said, go forth and build a happy, wholesome tradition that brings holiday cheer to your home and the planet. Give Mother Earth a Christmas present too — she’s had a rough year. She deserves it. Deck the halls with boughs of spruce and pine, not plastic.


Written by: Molly Thompson — mmtthompson@ucdavis.edu 


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