With Christmas right around the corner, people who are environmentally conscious may be wondering: are real or fake Christmas trees better for the environment?
I don’t necessarily believe one to be the ultimate sustainable choice as both have some environmental implications. Today I’ll be breaking down the environmental impact of each as well as some pros and cons to consider to hopefully help you make the most sustainable choice for you.
Are real or fake Christmas trees better for the environment?
The assumption can often be that a real tree is a plant and a fake tree is plastic and therefore a real tree is better. But there are a lot more factors at play here than just plastic.
In some places, Christmas tree farms make an effort to plant more trees than those cut-down. Which is amazing and has positive environmental impacts. However, this isn’t the case everywhere and often there is no effort to replenish the number of firs that are cut down which can lead to a shortage of the plant. Especially with an estimated 8 million real trees purchased each year in the US alone.
They also require care and resources to maintain, before they’re cut as well as when they’re in your home. Especially if the tree isn’t local and coming from somewhere far away, the amount of water and chemicals used to preserve it can be extensive.
However, their overall footprint is quite low when compared to an artificial tree. And when disposed of properly they can have a positive impact. For instance, a lot of places that sell real trees will also take them back at the end of the season to be shredded and used in gardens and parks which can even give them negative emissions.
Real trees that aren’t disposed of properly and go to landfills can have the same effect as food that goes to landfills: they release harmful methane more powerful than Co2 because there is a lack of air in landfills.
So what are the pros and cons?
- They smell nice
- When bought locally they have almost 0 carbon emissions
- Can be used in gardens and parks to save emissions
- Helps support local communities
- Toxic to animals
- Require watering and upkeep
- Don’t last as long as fake trees
- Can be a fire hazard
So how can you purchase a real tree sustainably?
Buy a tree that is local to your area and dispose of it properly after the Christmas season! If done right there could be virtually no negative environmental impacts.
Fake trees are more complicated than real trees. Yes, they are made of PVC which is a type of plastic. But as I’ve talked about before, plastic isn’t the worst thing in the world if it isn’t single-use.
The problem with fake trees is their footprint. Their production accounts for most of its carbon footprint. (about 2/3rds) The rest is from industrial emissions and shipping since more artificial trees aren’t made at your local market.
Their footprint is equal to 40kg of greenhouse gas emissions which is more than double that of a real tree. Based on that statistic alone you’re probably thinking that a real tree is the better option for the environment. And statistically, you would be right. However, a real tree doesn’t work for everyone. Those who have pets or allergies come to mind.
I believe you can purchase and/or use a fake tree sustainably. After all, they’re meant to last you years and years.
Pros of a fake tree:
- It’s cheaper over the years
- You can leave it up longer
- Not dangerous to pets
Cons of a fake tree:
- Made from plastic
- Has a sizable carbon footprint
How can you use a fake tree sustainably?
If you have one already, keep using it. Throwing it out to purchase a real one will only create more emissions. If you don’t have one but think it’s the better fit for you, try to find one used. Buying second hand will always be better than buying new because that product already exists.
If you can buy one used, buy one that will last you for a very long time and take very good care of it.
And there you have it Sustainability shouldn’t ruin your festive joy. I believe that no matter which option you go with, it can be done responsibly and sustainably.
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