The Great Christmas Tree Debate

Are you on Team Natural or Team Artificial when it comes to Christmas trees? Have you ever wondered which is more sustainable?

Most of us firmly believe that one is “better” than the other, but there’s a really interesting debate about the sustainability aspects of this tradition. Here are a few pros and cons to consider when choosing the type of tree you use to celebrate the holidays.

 

 

Natural Trees

PROS

  • The trees provide many benefits to the environment as they grow, cleaning the air and providing watersheds and habitats for wildlife.
  • They are a renewable resource and replanted after being cut.
  • They grow best on rolling hills that are often unsuitable for other crops.
  • When you buy a tree from a local farmer, you’re supporting the people who live in your community.
  • Trees are biodegradable and can be composted, mulched, or burned.
  • The British Carbon trust estimates the average carbon footprint of a natural tree is 3.5kg of CO2 when composted, mulched or burned.

CONS

  • Buying a tree every year can get very expensive. According to Consumer Reports, the average cost of a natural Christmas tree in 2020 was $81.
  • Not everyone has access to local Christmas trees and transportation contributes to the environmental impact of your tree. If you drive more than 10 miles to get your tree, it might be more environmentally friendly to purchase an artificial one.
  • Not everyone has access to tree recycling programs. In the UK, an estimated 7 million Christmas trees are landfilled each year.
  • The British Carbon trust estimates the average carbon footprint of a natural tree is 16kg of CO2 when composted, mulched or burned.

 

 

Artificial Trees

PROS

  • The average artificial tree costs $107, making it the economical choice in the long run.
  • Caring for your tree and extending its use beyond the average seven years will certainly reduce the environmental impact.
  • Reselling, gifting, or donating your tree when you’re done with it will help extend the life.
  • If you use your tree for 12 years or more, you might actually have less of a carbon footprint than a natural tree.

CONS

  • Most of the artificial trees on the market are made of PVC and steel in China and shipped to the United States.
  • Artificial trees are used for an average of 7 years before it is disposed of. If a tree is displayed for 1 month/year, it will have served as a Christmas tree a total of 7 months.
  • Most artificial trees cannot be recycled at the end of their life.
  • The British Carbon trust estimates the average carbon footprint of an artificial tree at 40kg.

 

My vote? Team Natural!

My family sits squarely on Team Natural. In fact, we choose to hunt for our Christmas tree in the National Forest each year and it’s one of my favorite family holiday traditions! We love the adventure of wandering through the wild forest, foraging for the “perfect” Christmas tree.

Did you know you can harvest a Christmas tree from the National Forest? You can! And in Michigan, the permit is only $5. Read more about my tips and recommendations for a successful Christmas tree hunt in the national forest here, in this updated blog post.

 

 

Let’s Recap

If you’re going to buy a natural tree, buy local from a tree farm or retailer (preferably less than 10 miles from your home) and don’t throw your tree in the trash after the holiday.

Lots of municipalities have specific days for curbside recycling of Christmas trees. Alternatively, you can put it in your yard waste container, drop it off at a local recycling center, or let it naturally biodegrade on your own property if you have the space.

Birds and small mammals love the extra shelter and you’ll be shocked how quickly the tree decomposes. Usually, your county/city will share this information right after Christmas. Please feel free to share a link to your county/city tree recycling program in the comments. I’m sure your co-workers will appreciate it!

If you’re going to buy an artificial tree, buy the most durable one you can find (look for warranties) and keep it as long as possible.

For all this debate, it’s worth maintaining the perspective that no matter which you choose, your tree has a climate impact equivalent to driving roughly between 10-20 miles. So, bike to work a few days a year, and you’ve already offset your tree, no matter which type it is.

 

What about you?

Are you on Team Natural? Feel free to share your favorite local tree farms in the comments.

Are you on Team Artificial? Who’s had their artificial tree the longest? Anyone over 10 years? 20 years? What’s the sturdiest model available?

 

Here are links to my sources if you’re interested in digging deeper.

https://www.sightline.org/2015/12/21/your-christmas-trees-carbon-footprint/
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/26/business/energy-environment/fake-christmas-tree-vs-real-tree.html
https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/christmas-trees-recycling-environment-sustainability-plastic-a8705081.html
https://www.carbontrust.com/news/2013/01/christmas-tree-disposal-advice/
https://www.in.gov/dnr/forestry/7561.htm?fbclid=IwAR3PlYxqOFDnWILG7ej8_BPRSsCPhO2LjGq2L9dZ3gXqwh7NKeu55LX53eY
https://www.thinkstep.com/content/study-comparative-life-cycle-assessment-artificial-and-natural-christmas-tree
close

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

Carbon Free Family values your privacy and a minimalist inbox. We promise to never sell your email address or personal information. You can expect an update to your inbox about once a week with new blog posts and events. We'll be in touch soon!

Leave a Comment