Clean Energy Blog

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

Dec 11, 2020
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. Farmers typically plant 1 to 3 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 things 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 can reduce its impact on the environment. Live trees can be chopped up and turned into mulch, wood chips, or firewood. Unsold trees are also used to prevent beachfront erosion and restore wildlife habitats. With more than 4,000 “treecycling” programs across the country, there are plenty of ways to ensure your tree continues to help the planet.
Artificial Trees
Artificial trees can be significantly more convenient than live trees. However, they come with more harmful effects. Around 80% of fake trees in the U.S. were made in China—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 uses a lot of energy, 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. Using an artificial tree for at least 10 years (though ideally closer to 20) can significantly reduce its environmental impact. 
The Takeaway
All in all, real trees tend to be less harmful to the environment. Buying local trees and recycling them when finished is key to minimizing their impact. Artificial trees can have a reduced impact if they are made in the U.S. and used for several years.
Whether you choose a real or artificial tree, one of the best ways you can reduce your impact on the environment this holiday season is by signing up for clean energy. Give yourself the gift of a clean and green planet this holiday season!

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