Real Tree or Artificial Tree: Which is the greener choice?

Dec 6, 2018 - 3:11 pm

Real tree or artificial tree: which is the greener choice?

Fun fact: Did you know the first artificial Christmas trees were actually made in the early 1930s by a company called Addis Brush? They were in the business of making toilet scrubbers and brushes. So, the first fake trees were really nothing more than gigantic, green toilet bowl scrubbers!

The regular debate about what type of Christmas tree is more sustainable real or artificial? is on. Some would argue artificial trees can be reused again and again again, making them the most sustainable choice. Plus, you help the environment by saving a tree from being cut down.

On the other hand, most artificial trees are made of PVC, which is a petroleum-based, non-biodegradable plastic. Once you throw your artificial tree away, it’s going to be in the landfill forever. And, because the plastic fibers are fused and glued to the metal frame, artificial trees can’t be recycled. In addition, more than 85 percent of all the artificial trees sold in the U.S. come from China, which increases the carbon footprint associated with transporting the trees to the U.S.

But real Christmas trees are the more sustainable option hands down. Here’s why:

  • Most of the real trees sold in the U.S. are grown by local farmers, according to the USDA. With 25-30 million real trees sold each year, this helps employ more than 100,000 workers.
  • There are more than 350 million Christmas trees grown in the U.S. These trees help keep our air clean and also provide shelter for wildlife. And for every tree cut down, 1-3 trees are replanted in the spring.
  • There are more than 4,000 Christmas tree recycling programs around the U.S. Real trees can be easily recycled, unlike artificial trees. In Austin, you can recycle your tree by setting it out on the curb during your regular collection day. Check out ARR’s program.

Another option that is gaining popularity is to purchase a potted evergreen that serves as both a Christmas tree and a yard tree. The key to success is timing. Purchase the tree close to Christmas, and keep it indoors for as brief a time as possible. After Christmas, when you're ready to plant the tree, acclimate it to cooler air by placing it in the garage or shed for a few days. On a mild day, after digging a hole, place the tree into the hole, backfill with excavated soil and tamp gently. Then water deeply, and mulch heavily.

So while there is a higher cost associated with buying a real Christmas tree year after year, if you buy local trees and commit to recycling or mulching the tree after the holidays, they are the greener choice. No matter which kind of tree you opt to go with, decorate it with LED lights to save energy, and get creative make ornaments from repurposed materials.