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Real or fake? The Christmas tree debate and their impact on the environment

Pennsylvania farms produce 1 million Christmas trees each year, though many still opt for the artificial tree.

LANCASTER, Pa. — It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which means many people are starting to put up their trees. 

Is your family a part of Team real tree or Team fake tree? The answer often lies in tradition. But have you ever considered the environmental impact your choice has?

Let’s start with the real trees. 

It’s a product that’s grown, cut, and sold right here in Pennsylvania, which means it doesn’t need much energy to produce. Trees are also replanted each season after being cut down.

According to the PA Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania farms produce one million Christmas trees each year.

While these trees are cut down, there are still many more that are still growing for future seasons. Dr. Rick Bates of Penn State University says these trees have many environmental benefits.

“Those benefits can include reducing runoff, providing habitat for wildlife, not to mention, one of the chief benefits, which is the fact that all of those 350 million Christmas trees are capturing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen," says Dr. Bates.

The trees that make it into your home bring some benefits too according to Michelle Fritz, Manager at Frey's Greenhouse in Lancaster. 

“One is that it boosts your mood. Two, it boosts your immunity. And three, it boosts productivity in your home. Same for houseplants. Real trees and houseplants, it’s good to have them fresh.”

Fritz says they've already been very busy this season with families stopping by to purchase their real Christmas tree.

Focusing our attention on artificial trees, you first need to understand where they come from.

“Almost all of them are produced overseas and probably 85% or more of those are produced in China," Dr. Bates tells FOX43. "And it’s a fairly energy intensive process used in China to produce a fake tree.”

Additionally, artificial trees will eventually sit in a landfall, unlike real trees.

Now, most people do keep artificial trees for a number of years. In fact, a 2018 study did find that if you keep an artificial tree for at least 5 years, the environmental impact balances out compared to real ones. 

However, Bates says there’s still a clear winner in his book.

“It’s still very imbalanced from an energy use standpoint, I think real trees are still the clear winner," he says.

If you're looking to get a real tree this season, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has resources for people to find a local farm near them. You can access that on their website or on the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association's website

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