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Real vs. fake Christmas trees: Which is friendlier to the environment?

Benefits and disadvantages of real and fake Christmas trees

It seems like every other year, we get bombarded with propaganda about how real Christmas trees are bad for the environment and why everyone should buy fake trees. Then the next year, it’s the opposite! So what’s the deal regarding the real vs. fake Christmas tree debate? Which one is actually more eco-friendly? Here, we’ll talk about the effects that fake and real trees have on the environment and which one you should choose based on facts, not trends.

Fake Christmas tree with ornaments
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How do fake Christmas trees impact the environment?

It may seem at first like investing in a fake Christmas tree would be better for the environment in the long run. You’ll buy the tree, pack it up at the end of the season, and reuse it next year and maybe for years to come. However, 10 million artificial trees are purchased by Americans every season, and most of those trees are imported from China. This means that they increase carbon emissions and use up a lot of resources to get here. Most of these trees are also not recyclable or biodegradable, so they’ll end up in a landfill somewhere where they could take decades to break down.

Pine tree close-up
Aurelio Arantes / Unsplash

How do real Christmas trees impact the environment?

Right off the bat, real trees have a lot going for them. Not only are they more appealing with their rich colors, lovely smells, and deep traditional background, but they’re also good for the environment. Real trees release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. And even NASA agrees that the best way to fight climate change is to keep planting trees. So even though tree farms eventually cut their trees down, their impact on the environment is a good one. For every tree a farmer cuts down, they plant two to three seedlings. And if people buy more real trees, this will only get better.

Of course, tree farmers use equipment that burns fossil fuels, but this is far less than the enormous ships and factories that create fake trees. Additionally, tree farms are an excellent business for the local economy. They provide jobs for those in the area. The trees are perfect homes for animals while they grow to harvest size.

And it just keeps getting better. Unlike fake trees, real trees are entirely biodegradable and super easy to recycle. They can be turned into lumber, firewood, and mulch — plus, you can even compost them.

Pine tree
Beekeepx / Shutterstock

Shouldn’t we avoid cutting down trees?

You might be thinking, “that all sounds great, but aren’t we trying to reduce the number of trees we cut down?” And you would be right! Logging and destroying forests have been the main contributors to climate change, but tree farms are not the same thing as logging. Often, the companies and industries that cut down large forests have no plan to restore the forests or plant more trees to make up for the ones they cut down. Tree farms, however, use sustainable methods to grow, raise, and harvest their trees. So tree farms are more like corn farms than logging operations.

Christmas tree farm
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Is there another option?

Maybe you’re still convinced that real trees aren’t great for the environment, and you know fake ones aren’t either, but is there another option? The short answer is yes. There are other ways you can decorate your home without the use of a Christmas tree. Maybe you have a houseplant that could be a stand-in! While this isn’t the traditional look many of us are going for, perhaps it’s time to start something new.

However, if the idea of using something other than a Christmas tree doesn’t appeal to you, there are a few companies that will allow you to purchase a Christmas tree in a flower pot. Then, once the holiday has passed, the company will take that tree and plant it in a forest. These operations are few and far between, but if you can find one in your area, it seems like the best option out there.

It might be a more expensive decision, but all the signs point to real trees being better for the environment. So add a bit more to your Christmas budget to splurge on that beautiful tree. Take the whole family and keep a centuries-long tradition alive. You’ll feel better about spending more time with your family and saving the planet all in one go. And let’s not forget the alluring fragrance and aesthetics a real Christmas tree brings to the table.

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Rebecca Wolken
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Rebecca's has written for Bob Villa and a Cincinnati based remodeling company. When she's not writing about home remodeling…
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