You’ll hate hearing this, but we’re a trashy bunch – it’s true – especially during the holidays.
According to Stanford University, we throw away 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than at any other time. That adds up to about 25 tons of garbage or about one million extra tons each week. From single-use ribbons, bows, wrapping paper, greeting cards, gift packaging, and disposable plates and utensils, we sure know how to pile on the landfill. And we haven’t even mentioned the crowning glory of holiday decorating – the noble Christmas tree.
Before the kids can chew through their Halloween stash, stores begin setting up their artificial tree displays. These days, some folks have taken on a new tradition – putting up the Christmas tree before the first sandwich is made from the leftover Thanksgiving turkey.
For those families who don’t already have a dismantled artificial tree boxed in the attic or basement, you can bet this topic pops up each year. Do we buy a live tree or invest in an artificial Christmas tree?
You could argue for either one, but if you’re concerned about which is the most eco-friendly, then the live tree wins every time. Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a stately, perfectly shaped, pre-lit Fraser fir holding court in your living room. But you should also know the consequences.
Let’s examine the pros and cons of live versus artificial Christmas trees.
Live trees pros:
- Real trees absorb carbon dioxide and other gases and emit fresh oxygen
- They are grown as a crop by Christmas tree farmers
- Farmers plant seedlings every Spring to replace harvested trees
- They make your house smell like Christmas
- Buying a real tree helps to support small US farmers
- Selecting a real tree provides fun holiday memories
- Christmas trees can grow in soil that is unfriendly to other crops
- Christmas trees help support the US economy by employing approximately 100,000 people
- Easily recycled as firewood, compost, or mulch
Live trees cons:
- Those %#*$^ needles make a mess
- Hauling a large tree into the house is challenging
- Setting up a live tree in a stand can be frustrating
- You need to water live trees to keep them from becoming a fire hazard
- Unless it’s an organic tree, pesticides are used
- Some trees carry allergens
- Hauling millions of trees to market has some environmental impacts, including carbon emissions from transportation
- You have to spend the money to purchase one each year
- You have to dispose of your tree
- No sticky sap or shedding needles
- No watering needed, making them maintenance free
- Depending on the one you buy, they are easier to set up than a live tree
- Artificial trees can last 10 years and even longer with care, making them cost-effective
- Because they last for many seasons, you cut down on emissions needed to transport a tree
- Pre-strung trees mean you don’t have to struggle with stringing lights each year
- An artificial tree will look green and fresh all season
- The majority of artificial trees are made in China
- The chemicals used to make the trees can be harmful to the environment, and people
- Artificial trees are not biodegradable or recyclable
- The take centuries to decompose in a landfill
- Their production adds to the carbon footprint
So, as you can see, both types of Christmas trees have their benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately, you should select whichever tree you prefer. If you want to be somewhat eco-friendly, look for an artificial tree made from 100% recycled, non-toxic PVC plastic, preferably in the USA, and plan to keep it for many seasons.
And if a live tree is your choice, then, if possible, purchase one from a nearby farm and dispose of it responsibly. Most towns collect trees at the curb after the holidays. Check with your local municipality. You’ll probably need to cut the tree into portions. If your city doesn’t offer curbside pick-up services, cut the tree into smaller chunks, and place the pieces inside your yard waste bin. And if DIY is your thing, consider pooling with your neighbors and renting a woodchipper. You can have a neighborhood wood chipping party after the holidays, and everyone gets to take home mulch.