Real vs fake Christmas trees

Photo: Erin Walker

Photo: Erin Walker

As Christmas is coming closer you might be asking yourself which is a better option in terms of the impact on the environment: a real Christmas tree or a fake one? To be able to answer this question, there are a number of factors that need to be considered, such as how far the tree has traveled, how much energy went into producing it and how it is recycled.

The vast majority of Christmas trees are grown on farms specifically for the purpose of being cut down for Christmas trees (and new seedlings are planted every spring to replace those harvested). While growing they emit fresh oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to global warming. Some experts also say Christmas tree farms help stabilize the soil, protect water supplies, and provide refuge for wildlife. Another pro is that they are 100% biodegradable, although when send to a landfill it produces methane as it decomposes. Furthermore, the Christmas tree industry provides employment in the country where the trees are grown (and not like with most fake trees in China). A con of buying a real tree are the repeated applications of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that may be used throughout their lifetime.

Most fake Christmas trees are made out of PVC, which is a non-recyclable, petroleum-derived plastic that has been linked to adverse health and environmental impacts. Furthermore, more than 85% of them are imported from China, meaning that the shipping significantly increases their carbon footprint. Studies have shown that fake trees need to be reused for 10-20 years to make it a better option than a real tree in terms of carbon footprint (and then still, what happens to the plastic?).

So, a real Christmas tree seems the greener option, but there is more that you can do to reduce your carbon footprint when it comes to Christmas trees:

  1. bring your tree back for “treecycling”: Christmas trees are recycled into mulch and used in landscaping and gardening or chipped and used for playground material, hiking trails, paths and walkways. They can be used for beachfront erosion prevention, lake and river shoreline stabilization, and fish and wildlife habitat.

  2. buy local, so your tree has not traveled far to get to you (this is of course only possible if you live somewhere where the trees grow. However, a real tree has possibly traveled less than an artificial tree.)

  3. buy an organic tree that has been grown using integrated pest management techniques rather than chemicals.

  4. buy a living, potted tree that can be replanted after Christmas.

  5. rent a potted tree: some garden centers and tree nurseries offer a Christmas tree rental scheme, where you can rent your Christmas tree in a pot for the Christmas period, and return it to the growers afterwards where it can be looked after.


Green Global Travel

Christmas tree Association


New York Times

Find a Christmas tree farm near you (US only):