It's the holiday season, and for some, that means the annual debate whether to have a real or artificial Christmas tree.
"Real trees have a lot of benefits. First of all, inside the house it produces a much nicer fragrance. It’s much more aesthetic, plus a real tree is essentially cycling carbon. Artificial trees are pretty much plastic products," said Dr. Russell Briggs, of SUNY-ESF.
He has spent years researching traditional Christmas trees and points out that growing the trees helps our air quality.
"These trees for the 10 years or so before they’re harvested are taking up carbon; they’re taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. All that tissue is built with carbon cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, fat and waxes that’s essentially being stored. All that CO2. And now you’re looking at the stored CO2," said Briggs.
But what about after the holiday season? Isn’t the tree going to waste?
"No. It’ll go out and perhaps sit at your local landfill for a year," said Briggs. "Some people will chip it and mulch it and it’ll be put on someone’s garden. Eventually it’ll be returned back to the soil.
"We often think of this as carbon neutral. We have this material that’s gathering up carbon from the atmosphere for 10 years then eventually it’s going to decompose and the carbon goes back into the atmosphere essentially closing the loop."
What about a live tree becoming a fire hazard?
"If you treat it badly and don’t put any water in it, that’s true. But if you follow the recommended procedure - store your tree in water, always keep it fully hydrated - you’ll never catch it on fire," said Briggs. "In fact, we did a study a few years ago in which we attempted to set Christmas trees on fire. We held a lighter on it and with a fully foliated Christmas tree that had full-moisture content, we couldn’t sustain a flame."