Natural vs. artificial: Which Christmas tree option is better for the climate?


New York City – It’s that time of year when most Americans have finished their Thanksgiving leftovers and are out looking for the best holiday deals. More importantly, they’re planning a seasonal home centerpiece: the Christmas tree.

Some enjoy the scent of real wood and the joy of picking one from a local farm, while others prefer the simplicity of a man-made tree that can be reused next Christmas.

But consumers are becoming increasingly climate conscious, and considering trees that have the least impact on our rapidly warming planet has become an important part of vacation decisions. Plus, choosing an eco-friendly tree will increase your chances of being on Santa’s favorites list.

So which type of tree has the lowest carbon footprint? Natural trees and commercial plastic trees. It’s complicated, experts say.

“It’s definitely a lot more subtle and complex than you might think,” Andy Finton, landscape conservation director and forest ecologist at the Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts, told CNN.

Here is a list of things to know before choosing between real and man-made.

artificial tree case

It’s easy to imagine that reusing artificial trees every year would be a more sustainable option. But Finton says that if artificial trees are used for six years (the average length of time people keep them), “the carbon costs will definitely be greater” than natural trees.

“The longer lifespans of artificial trees change that balance,” Finton told CNN. “And I’ve read that it takes 20 years for the carbon budgets to be roughly equivalent.”

This is because artificial trees are usually made of polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC). Plastics are petroleum-based and made in petrochemical facilities that cause pollution. Studies also link PVC plastic to cancer and other public health and environmental risks.

Next is transportation. According to the US Department of Commerce, most artificial Christmas trees are imported into the US from China. That means the product is transported across the Pacific on fossil-fuel-fueled ships and then on heavy-duty trucks before finally landing on distributor shelves. Or the consumer’s doorstep.

The American Christmas Tree Association, a nonprofit representing artificial tree manufacturers, commissioned a study from WAP Sustainability Consulting in 2018. The study found that the environmental impact of the artificial tree was superior to that of the real tree when the fake tree was used for at least 5 years.

ACTA executive director Jami Warner told CNN: “It’s a real tree that takes into account planting, fertilizing and watering, and the growing season in the field is about seven to eight years.”

What are the benefits of real wood?

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, it takes an average of seven years to fully grow a Christmas tree. As it grows, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the air. Protecting forests and planting trees can help reverse the worst effects of the climate crisis by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

When trees are cut down or burned, they can release their accumulated carbon into the atmosphere. But Doug Handley, spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association, which advocates for real trees, said the act of cutting Christmas trees from farms is balanced when farmers immediately plant new seedlings and plant replacements. says that

“Once a tree has been felled or felled, it can be replanted very quickly,” says Hundley.

If the idea of ​​trekking through the forest to find the perfect tree intrigues you, you can purchase a permit from the U.S. Forest Service. This encourages people to cut their own trees instead of buying artificial trees.According to, cutting thin trees in densely populated areas improves forest health. may occur.

But Finton doesn’t recommend pulling Clark Griswold or chopping down a giant tree to carry him home. Especially if it’s in an area where it’s not allowed.

“For me, the advantage of going to a Christmas tree farm is that the impact of cutting trees is concentrated in one place, unlike cutting trees in the forest,” he said. “And it puts the responsibility on farmers to regenerate those trees.”

Most of the trees that people end up with are grown on nearby farms, so there are financial benefits to going to nature as well. and employs over 100,000 people full or part time in this industry.

“What we do by buying a natural Christmas tree is supporting the local economy, our community and our local farmers, and to me it’s an important part of the conservation equation.” If they can get an economic benefit from their land, they are less likely to sell it for development and less likely to convert it to other uses.”

Disposal matter

When the holidays are over, the trees are piled on the curb and in many places the final destination is a landfill, making methane a greenhouse gas that is about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“It’s very discouraging that a real Christmas tree ends up in a landfill,” Handley said, adding that there needs to be “another place for yard waste where Christmas trees can be placed.”

However, some towns and cities are reusing trees to benefit the climate and the environment. New York City collects trees that have been left on the curb for a period of time for recycling or composting. The city’s health department also hosts an initiative called his MulchFest. The event allows residents to bring their own trees to make mulch that can be used to nourish other trees in the city.

“When the homeowner is done with the wood, it’s very easy to mulch the wood, and it’s common in America, and the accumulated carbon is returned to the ground,” Hundley added.

Finton also says that former Christmas trees can be reused for habitat restoration. Placing them along streams and riverbanks helps control erosion, and placing them in rivers and lakes can even help aquatic habitats thrive.

The end of life of artificial trees varies greatly. It ends up in landfills (which can take hundreds of years to decompose) or incinerators, where it releases harmful chemicals.


When weighing the pros and cons of a complex climate, a real Christmas tree wins. But if you choose to artificially decorate your hall, get a tree that you like and can reuse for years.

Either way, Finton said people should be happy with their decisions and find other ways to tackle the climate crisis.

“This is up for debate, but once we make a decision, we need to be happy with that decision because there are many other things in our lives that can have an even greater impact on climate change. Because there is, for example, driving less, or advocating for policies to expand renewable energy,” Finton said. “Enjoy your vacation and focus on other aspects of your life to reduce the impact of climate change.”


What do you think?

Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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