The Sunday Magazine

This forester says it's better to cut down a real tree at Christmas than to assemble one from a box

This forester says it’s better to cut down a real tree at Christmas than to assemble one from a box: people tend to believe artificial Christmas trees are environmentally friendlier because, after all, we are not supposed to cut down real trees. However, Marie-Paule Godin, a forester with the non-profit group Tree Canada, says that needs a rethink.
Real Christmas trees may be trickier to find this holiday season, suppliers say. (Kevin Frayer/The Canadian Press)

The message that cutting down trees is bad for the environment has been so ingrained in our collective psyche that it is understandable for people to think an artificial Christmas tree is a better idea.

Marie-Paule Godin, a forester with the non-profit group Tree Canada, says that is not true.

Marie-Paule Godin is a forester with the non-profit group Tree Canada. (Submitted by Marie-Paule Godin)
"The fact that trees are a renewable resource and that more will be planted is actually better for the environment," she told Michael Enright, host of The Sunday Edition. "Artificial trees are made of plastic. They're mostly produced in Asia."

She points out that they leave a harmful environmental footprint from production to transport to disposal, where they do not break down in landfill sites. People don't use them long enough to reduce those negative effects.

"Research shows that most people will only keep them from seven to ten years, then they will buy another artificial one," she said.

There are almost two thousand farms that grow Christmas trees in Canada, and not just for home consumption. Canada exports about two million trees every year. At the same time, we import about $60 million worth of artificial trees annually.

A transport truck heads from downtown Halifax with a Christmas tree bound for Boston. The long-standing tradition is an annual thank you to Boston for the help it provided after the 1917 Halifax Explosion. (CP PHOTO/Alison Auld)

Godin acknowledged that fossil fuels are burned to transport real trees to market, but she added that this has far less environmental impact than the production and shipment of fake trees that are manufactured overseas.

There are additional benefits to having a real Christmas tree, she says. A visit to a tree farm or a tree lot is a good social gathering for the community, bringing together families and neighbours. She adds that the aroma of a coniferous tree raises the dopamine levels in our brains and makes us feel better.

While artificial trees end up in landfill sites, where they do not break down, real trees often are turned into mulch and recycled into the earth.

Godin says it is also possible to extend the life of a real tree.

"You can always set it up, if you have a yard outside, and hang some bird feeders from it until the spring because the needles will stay fairly green in the cool weather," she said.

She always had a real tree as she grew up and has continued the tradition of visiting a tree farm every year, now that she has a family.

"I bring my two daughters and my husband and we have hot chocolate. We talk to the local farmer about what else they're growing and how the business is doing," she said. "It's a really nice experience."

Click 'listen' above to hear the whole interview.  


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