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How green is your tree?

Real Christmas trees are better for the environment than artificial ones, according to Suzuki Foundation



Get real.

That is the answer to the age-old debate over whether to buy a real Christmas tree or an artificial one — at least according to research done by the David Suzuki Foundation.

“With everything that I found out a real tree is better by quite a wide margin than an artificial one,” said Justin Smallbridge, who spent several days researching the issue for the Suzuki Foundation.

At the root of the conclusion is that it is better for the environment to buy a real tree. For the most part they are grown and sold locally, produce 10 to 12 years of oxygen and carbon dioxide removal before being cut, are fully recyclable, provide habitat, and once cut are replaced with at least two more seedlings.

“Definitively real trees are better,” said Smallbridge, who bought his own this past weekend as a result of his findings.

To be even more environmentally responsible its best to use LED lights on the tree, as they use less energy. And if you decorate it with strings of popcorn and cranberries they can feed the birds later.

It has been estimated that there are about 550,000 acres in production for Christmas trees in Canada and the U.S. and each acre provides the daily oxygen requirements for 18 people.

Real trees are also an important part of family Christmas traditions, said Arthur Loewen, of the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association.

“We have a lot of families who come out and say this is our tradition, we are making memories here,” said Loewen who has been selling trees from his Pine Meadows Tree Farm in Chilliwack for 37 years.

“I have people this year saying, ‘I came here as a child with my parents and now we are coming here with our kids.’”

Loewen has seen sales of real Christmas trees go up in recent years. This year he expects to sell 3,000 from his farm and at least that many to other retailers.

According to Statistics Canada, sales of real Christmas trees were worth $73.9 million in 2005. About 2.4 million Christmas trees were exported from Canada to places as far away as Ireland and Thailand. Up to six million trees are grown in Canada each year.

Whistler’s Garden Centre is also doing a brisk business.

“They smell beautiful and they look gorgeous,” said owner Shelley Fraser, adding that buying live potted trees is also becoming more popular.

“…You can plant them afterwards, it is not just a waste of a tree. And it is a renewable resource. Rather than having artificial trees imported from overseas these trees are replanted again and again.”

But not everyone wants to get real.

“I bought an artificial tree this year because I didn’t want to buy a tree that had been cut down,” said Elise Donnelly of Whistler, whose family always moved a live tree in and out of the house for the holidays.

“Every year so many trees get cut down for the month of December and it seems so destructive.”

She is not alone. According to Statistics Canada $36.6 million was spent importing artificial trees from China in 2005.

“Our sales just keep going up, up, up for trees,” said Mark Hansen of Richmond-based Hansen’s Christmas Stuff.

The wholesaler said the modern artificial tree is luxurious and natural enough looking that one customer even had a bird nest in it while it was outside on a deck waiting to be stored.

“And for many people who buy them it is about convenience for the customer,” he said.

They also do not cause allergies, cannot contribute to the spread of pests and, said Hansen, are a wise choice for the environment even though they cannot be recycled.

“They can last for many, many years,” he said.”

“Customers are not going out in their car and driving to get one every year, year after year. Once the artificial tree is the house it stays there for a very long time.”