Environmentally-conscious students can breathe easier: Buying a real Christmas tree isn’t harming the earth, Christmas tree experts Ricky Bates and Larry Kuhns said.
Bates, associate professor of ornamental horticulture at Penn State, said he wants people to know they aren’t harming the environment by using a real Christmas tree.
“Using a real Christmas tree is actually beneficial in a number of ways,” Bates said. “Christmas tree farms help reduce soil erosion, create habitats for wildlife, capture carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.”
When it comes down to whether real or artificial trees require burning more fossil fuels, the answer isn’t black and white, he said.
“You need to take into consideration the overall benefits and costs of producing Christmas trees,” Bates said. “For example, fossil fuels are used by the equipment to produce trees on farms, but these trees will collect carbon over their lifetime.”
Kuhns, a professor of ornamental horticulture at Penn State and owner of Kuhns Tree Farm, said there isn’t really a substantial net atmospheric carbon or oxygen gain or loss from the time the seed sprouts to the time the tree has been totally decomposed.
Also, compared to artificial Christmas trees, real trees are completely recyclable and renewable, he said.
“Every year, about 34 million trees are sold and several million seedlings are planted to replace them,” Bates said. “More trees are planted than harvested.”
When a Christmas tree seedling is planted on a farm, it is already three or four years old, and it takes seven-to-nine years for it to mature into a marketable tree, Bates said.
The benefits of using real Christmas trees don’t just apply to the environment, but also the local and national economy, Bates and Kuhns said.
Bates said there are more than 15,000 Christmas tree farmers in the United States, and the Christmas tree industry provides employment for about 100,000 people.
Sales related to Christmas trees, whether indirectly or directly, add to the overall economic output of the economy, Kuhns said.
Bates and Kuhns both said the recent recession hasn’t had much of an impact on the Christmas tree industry.
“Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a tree for most families,” Kuhns said.
Kayla Hockman said she was surprised to hear about all the benefits of using a real tree.
“I didn’t realize how much went on in the Christmas tree industry,” Hockman (freshman-biobehavioral health) said. “I always figured using a fake tree was better. Guess I was wrong.”