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

mom and daughter picking out a christmas tree
  • Dec 6, 2019

The holiday season is upon us, and so is the age-old debate of which is the superior tree option: real trees or artificial 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 bad for the environment, it's actually the opposite. 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. They also provide habitats for wildlife. Purchasing live trees supports tree farms and allows them to plant new trees each year, ultimately benefiting the environment.

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. Nearly 85% of artificial trees in the U.S. were made in China—resulting in high transportation emissions. If you opt for an artificial tree this holiday season, try to buy one that was made in the U.S. Additionally, the manufacturing of artificial trees uses a lot of energy, producing greenhouse gas emissions. 

One of the worst impacts of artificial trees is their eventual home in landfills. Many are made from PVC, a non-recyclable and environmentally harmful plastic. While a live tree can be recycled or composted, an artificial 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 tree, artificial tree, or even a creative alternative (check out our Pinterest for inspiration!), there are many other significant ways you can help the environment this holiday season—such as making the switch to clean energy. Give yourself the gift of a clean and green planet this holiday season!

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