Real vs. Artificial Trees: Which Are Better for the Planet?

A mother and daughter looking at live Christmas trees.
  • Dec 1, 2022

The holiday season is upon us, and so is the age-old debate of which is the superior tree option: real trees or fake trees. 

While there are clear pros and cons to both, it can be unclear as to which is the better choice from an environmental standpoint. Here are some factors to consider when choosing the most environmentally friendly tree:

Real Trees

Aside from the fresh pine scent, real trees offer many benefits—especially environmental ones. While many view cutting down live trees as a form of deforestation and thus deem it bad for the environment, the opposite is actually true. The majority of live trees are grown on tree farms for the sole purpose of being cut down, similar to any other crop. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, farmers typically plant one to three new trees for every tree cut down each year. These trees absorb harmful CO2 and in turn release oxygen into the air, while also providing habitats for wildlife. Purchasing live trees supports tree farms and allows them to plant new trees each year, ultimately benefiting the environment. In the U.S. alone, there are nearly 350 million trees currently growing on Christmas tree farms—that’s 350 million trees that exist because of the demand for real trees!

If you choose a real tree, there are a few factors that can affect its impact on the environment. For instance, buying a tree from a local tree farm can reduce transportation emissions. Additionally, recycling or composting your tree after use can reduce its overall impact. Live trees can be chopped up and turned into mulch, wood chips, or firewood. Many municipalities offer curbside pickup options or free drop-off locations to recycle your tree and have it turned into mulch. Since live trees are 100% biodegradable, there are plenty of ways to ensure your tree continues to help the planet after the holiday season. 

Artificial Trees

Artificial trees can be much more convenient than live trees—but they often come with more harmful effects. Around 85% of fake trees in the U.S. were made overseas—resulting in high transportation emissions. If you opt for a fake tree this holiday season, try to buy one that was made in the U.S. Additionally, the manufacturing of fake trees requires a lot of energy, thus producing greenhouse gas emissions. 

One of the worst impacts of fake trees is their eventual home in landfills. Many fake trees are made from PVC, a non-recyclable and environmentally harmful plastic. While a live tree is biodegradable and can be recycled or composted, a fake tree could live in a landfill for much longer than it was used in a home. 

Despite these negative environmental impacts, there is one way that choosing an artificial tree could be more eco-friendly than opting for a live tree. According to The Carbon Trust, using the same artificial tree for seven to 20 years would be better for the environment than buying a new, commercially grown tree every year. Most Americans only keep the same artificial tree for six to nine years, but keeping it for closer to 20 years (or giving it a new home through a secondhand store or a Buy Nothing group, rather than throwing it away) can significantly reduce its environmental impact. 

The Takeaway

Overall, real trees tend to be less harmful to the environment. Buying local trees and recycling them when finished is key to minimizing their impact. But artificial trees can have a reduced impact if they are made in the U.S. and used for upwards of 20 years. 

Whether you choose a real or artificial tree, one of the best ways you can make a positive impact on the environment this holiday season is by choosing 100% clean, renewable energy from wind and solar for your home. Give yourself and your loved ones the gift of a cleaner planet this holiday season!

Stay in the know

Learn about clean energy, climate tips, special offers, and more