Real or plastic christmas tree?



Real vs. fake Christmas tree - which one is better?

This, of course, depends on how you define “better”.

Christmas Tree - Real vs. Fake - which is greener

Let’s take a look at 3 criteria:

  1. Carbon Footprint
  2. Convenience
  3. Jobs and local economies

Carbon footprint

Winner: Real tree (but see Unless below)

Farmed Christmas trees sequester CO2 from the atmosphere.

A single farmed tree absorbs more than 1 ton of CO2 throughout its lifetime.

In addition to taking out carbon dioxide from the air, each acre of trees produces enough oxygen for the daily needs of 18 people [1].

For every Real Christmas Tree harvested, 1 to 3 seedlings are planted the following spring [2].

Approximately 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in North America each year. About 93 percent of those trees are recycled [1].

Christmas trees are recycled into mulch for landscaping, gardening, or chipped for playground material, hiking trails, paths and walkways.

Some areas also use discarded trees to prevent beach erosion or sink them into lakes to create fish habitats.

For example, this tactic was used in parts of New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy eroded as much as three to five feet of beach elevation [3].

Yes, for climates where coniferous trees don’t grow, that tree in your living room may have had to travel hundreds of miles to reach the lot.

But consider this:

Most plastic trees are manufactured in China.

A real tree travels a shorter distance to get into your home than an artificial one.

Yes, real tree is not perfect. Christmas trees are farmed as agricultural products, with repeated applications of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

Even with that in the equation, when the full life cycle from production, packaging, distribution, use at home, and finally, end of life disposal are considered, real tree is still the winner [4]...


You are committed to reusing the same plastic tree for a looooog time.

How long?

Folks at Sustainability for All says 12 years.

Another study calculates that at 20 years [4].

The American Christmas Tree Association, which represents manufacturers, claims if a household uses an artificial tree for at least 4 years, its carbon footprint will be smaller than purchasing a real tree every year.

I’m not convinced the study supporting that claim covers the real impact of artificial trees.

In any case, if you're going for an artificial tree, the longer you keep it, the better.


Winner: Artificial tree…

If you don’t mind storing it for 11 months of the year.

Some families enjoy visiting farms to choose and cut their own trees. But if that’s not you, then a fake tree is more convenient.

Jobs and local economy

Winner: Real tree

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, the Christmas tree industry employs more than 100,000 Americans, an important economic consideration in the real versus artificial debate.

And if you want Christmas tree farms to remind as farms, then buying a locally grown tree is the most direct way to support the farmers.

Otherwise, like other small scaled farms, tree farmers will have no choice but to sell the land. And chances are, the trees will be uprooted and replaced with luxury homes and condos.

The big picture

Compared with other central elements of the holidays, the tree is just a drop in the bucket in this season of air travel and consumerism [5].

To celebrate the holidays in a truly environmental fashion, look beyond just the Christmas tree.

Real or fake?

Don’t feel bad about cutting down a tree for the holiday. Christmas trees are crops grown on farms, like lettuce or corn.

  • If you already own an artificial tree, keep it for at least 12 years.
  • If you’re buying a tree this year, buy a real one sourced from a local farm. Be sure to recycle the tree properly.
  • If you’re in BC, consider supporting Aunt Leah’s Trees. Your purchase help kids in foster care and young mothers to achieve a better future.

Now I want to hear from you:

Are you buying a tree this year? How are you enjoying the holiday in a more eco-friend way?

You may also like: 


[1]: Earth911: Real vs. Artificial Christmas Trees

[2]: National Christmas Tree Association: Quick Tree Facts

[3]: The New York Times: Don’t Just Throw Away Your Christmas Tree

[4]:  ellipsos: How Green Is Your Christmas Tree?

[5]: The New York Times: Real vs. Artificial Christmas Trees: Which Is the Greener Choice?

[6]: Sustainability for all: Carbon Footprint: Natural vs. Plastic Christmas Tree


4 Responses


December 04, 2018

Amanda – potted trees! Great idea. Someone told me about it just this past weekend.

Natalie Wong
Natalie Wong

December 04, 2018

Diane – 19 years! So many precious memories under that tree.


November 30, 2018

Our first artificial tree we used for 19 years. We replaced that tree when our youngest was 8, so I would estimate at least 12 years life span for this tree.


November 29, 2018

We have potted trees! This year we added to the collection with a northern spruce tree we bought at the Port Moody Thrifty’s – close to our home and grown in BC! No way to beat that :)

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