Real vs Artificial: Which Christmas Tree is Greener?

December 12, 2015 by •

Growing up in NE Pennsylvania, I had the luxury of driving to a local farm every year to cut down our family tree.  The fresh scent of pine, the excitement of finding the perfect one, the hot cocoa and doughnuts, a visit from Santa Claus, and if we were really lucky, even a live reindeer sighting. 

However, other family members and friends didn’t have the same experience. Even if they did live near a local tree farm, they chose convenience over traditional custom. So when we all finally met around the tree (real or not), we always circled back to the same question: which is better?

While everyone has their sentimental opinion over which ritual is best, when it comes to which choice is better for the environment, only one takes the (tree) topper. Let’s weigh the pros and cons and see where the ornaments fall.

Artifical Trees

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Long shelf life
  • Convenient
  • Easy set up and clean up

Cons:

  • Made with PVC plastic
  • Contains poisonous lead
  • Non-recyclable
  • Non-biodegradable
  • Large carbon footprint

Artificial trees are known for their convenience. You can buy one fully decorated, keep it for nearly a decade, and never have to worry about pine needles all over your floor. But for the sake of the environment, the cons outweigh the convenience. Fake trees are made from the plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC contains hormone-disrupting plastic softeners called phthalates, and the toxic chemical dioxin is released during PVC production. Even worse, fake trees are contaminated with lead; So much so that they come with a warning label advising you to wash your hands after handling them.

While artificial trees can last up to 10 years in your home, they last for hundreds of years in the landfill. And just because you only walk a few steps from your cellar to your living room to set up your tree, doesn’t mean you’ve gone green. According to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), approximately 85% of artificial trees sold in the U.S. are imported from China, adding to their overall environmental footprint.

Real Trees

Pros:

  • Environmentally Friendly
  • Recyclable: wood chips, mulch, firewood, pathways, and erosion prevention.
  • Can be replanted
  • Supports local farmers
  • Absorbs CO2; Produces oxygen
  • Supports wildlife while growing to maturity
  • Smell of fresh pine
  • Family fun

Cons:

  • More expensive than artificial trees
  • Requires more clean up from pine needles
  • Few pesticides required to grow

According to earth911.com, “a single farmed tree absorbs more than 1 ton of CO2 throughout its lifetime. With more than 350 million real Christmas trees growing in U.S. tree farms alone, you can imagine the yearly amount of carbon sequestering associated with the trees. Additionally, each acre of trees produces enough oxygen for the daily needs of 18 people.”

Not only can you “treecycle” and use it for multiple purposes, you can purchase or rent a potted tree. After you have enjoyed your tree for the holidays, you can simply plant it in your yard, donate it, or have The Living Christmas Co. bring it back to the North Pole so future generations can benefit from it. It’s a win-win for everyone.

So which tree gets the gold star? A real tree. It’s the greener way to celebrate. Your health, your family and your environment will thank you for the gift that keeps on giving.