“O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely eco-friendly are thy branches!”
One of the first decisions people have to make when it’s time to decorate for Christmas is deciding between a real tree and an artificial one. If you’re wondering which choice is better for the environment, you’re not alone. This is a common question, but one that can be difficult to answer.
Real Christmas Trees: Winner of the Green Award
If you’ve read my posts before, this is the point where, like a broken record (or to use a more festive analogy, like blinking Christmas lights), I insert my trusted eco-disclaimer:
It depends on multiple factors, such as where you source the product, how many times you reuse it, and how you dispose of it.
Since there are so many pieces to the environmental puzzle, the answer to which tree is more sustainable might differ. For most of us, though, the winner of the greenest Christmas Tree award goes to real trees.
- While cutting down trees sounds like an environmental no-no, many real trees are raised from tiny saplings for the exclusive purpose of becoming Christmas trees when they are all grown up. Less than two percent of trees in the United States are sourced from wild trees.
- As trees grow, they store carbon. Even better, trees that are grown using best practices can help the soil retain more carbon, so they can actually help mitigate climate change. Artificial trees are usually imported from China and typically have high carbon emissions from transportation.
- If you buy local trees (like the Upper Valley-grown trees found at the Co-op), you’re supporting local farmers. Trees can grow on land that may not be good for growing other crops, so helping to support these farmers can help keep land from being developed.
- Real trees smell great (this is probably my favorite thing about real trees)! Many people purchase pine-tree scents to recreate the smell of real trees when they buy a plastic tree. Fragrances, unless you’re using high-quality essential oils, are made using mixtures of chemicals. Even things like all-natural scented soy candles can be filled with chemical dyes and fragrances. If the pine smell is important to you, buying a real tree helps you avoid using chemicals in your home.
- Real trees are compostable. Artificial trees are typically made from number three plastic (polyvinyl chloride), which can be difficult to recycle.
Finally, I’ll end with yet another blinking-Christmas-light disclaimer that appears in many of my posts:
There are more environmentally significant choices you can make.
During the Christmas season, the type of Christmas tree you choose is actually one of the smallest environmental decisions you’ll make. Your travel plans, food choices, and gifts all have much more significant environmental impacts. If you’re looking to have a greener Christmas this year, consider things like carpooling to your next party or choosing environmentally friendly gifts.