O Christmas Tree! Real or Fake?

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Which is better for the environment, hosting a real Christmas tree or a fake one? The answer’s pretty complex, with many factors to consider…and it really depends on where you live, so answers will be different for people in different parts of the country. The most important thing is to do a bit of research, and make your decision based on the facts.

Fake Trees: benefits and drawbacks

Fake trees can last for decades, which is a great considering nothing is going to waste during its life-span. It also doesn’t take any fossil fuel to go and grab the tree from the attic, so it’s definitely an energy-saver. However, for any tree, real or fake, you have think about where it will go at the end of its life cycle. For a fake tree, this could be tricky. Most are made of PVC plastic, so they aren’t recyclable. The eco-conscious solution would be to re-use it some how (toilette brushes? hah!), or pass it on to someone else. You could give it to Goodwill, The Salvation Army, or maybe put it on Craigslist. But at some point in time, even if it’s 35 years later, that non-recyclable plastic will have to go to a landfill.

For some folks the fake tree will always be the better option because of geographic location, budget, and transportation among other reasons. If that’s you, there are ways to make this option significantly greener (please excuse pun…). Not all fake trees need be store-bought PVC saplings from China. DIY’ers what do you say? Can you make a cool tree from recycled and reclaimed materials? I bet the possibilities are endless! However, if you’re not up for such a project, a well-timed trip to thrift store could win you a great tree and the satisfaction that it wont be seeing the landfill this year.

Real trees: benefits and drawbacks

The National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) says that real trees, hands-down, are better for the environment. Real trees contain no harmful chemicals, are 100% biodegradable, “locally-sourced” (local in this case is “grown in the US and Canada”), and provide an added benefit of storing carbon while they are growing. The NCTA makes a very convincing argument for choosing a real Christmas tree, but there are still some drawbacks.

Christmas trees, which are usually firs or pines, need to be hauled to parts of the country where these species don’t grow. Trees are pretty heavy, so this could demand a hefty amount of fossil fuel. Additionally, the carbon storage feature on real trees is great, but it’s counterproductive if trees are cut down. Once trees are dead they don’t use any CO2, so they won’t be removing any more carbon from the air. If a tree stores “x” amount of carbon while it’s alive, but requires “y” amount of carbon to be hauled to the middle of a desert, then the environmental impact totally depends on how big “x” is compared to “y.”

Some ideas on how to control these variables: choose a type of tree that grows in your state, then you know it won’t have come far. You could do this by cutting down your own tree near your home, or asking the tree vendor which kind is the most “local.” Better yet, you could buy a living tree with roots intact and plant it post-Christmas. Or, if you’re a super-ambitious steward of the environment, consider this unconventional idea: check with your local parks and wildlife services to find out which trees in the area are considered invasive species and cut one of them down!


Whether you chose a fake tree, real tree, (or no tree?) this year, knowing the facts will help you arrive at the best eco-friendly solution. And who knows? A little creativity and thinking out side the box could introduce some new and exciting holiday traditions!

(image: Peaceful Craziness)

4 Responses

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  1. The Pipe Christmas Tree Farm outside of San Antonio has living trees, which are potted trees and can be planted after the holiday is over.

    ecologique design

    November 28, 2011 at 3:33 pm

  2. Personally, I would prefer an artificial Christmas tree, because it would be more cost effective and I can use it many times,year after year.That’s my opinion anyway. :)

  3. Nice Blog ! I really found so many useful information on your site. Thank you for the information. Keep up the good work!

    artificial trees

    December 6, 2011 at 4:43 am

  4. If you live in West Texas may I suggest a mesquite tree? Don’t go for the whole tree you just need to cut off the top of one. Decorate with the tiny lights and the thorns are great for hanging an ornament off of and a strand or two of tinsel. 50 years ago, before fake trees were even around my parents realized they had to stop using cut trees because my baby brother would have such a severe allergic reaction they would end up spending the holidays in the hospital emergency room – my mom got the idea to use the ubiquitous mesquite instead and the dead bare thorny brown branch made an amazingly sophisticated Christmas focal point. And after the holidays you can always burn the mesquite in your smoker or barbque pit.


    December 14, 2011 at 9:25 pm

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