One Tree Planted

Real vs. Fake Christmas Trees: Which is Better For the Environment?

Meaghan Weeden | November 21, 2020 | 4 min read

Are Real or Fake Christmas Trees Better For The environment?

We spend a lot of time talking about why you shouldn’t cut down trees, and in light of that, you may be wondering how we feel about Christmas trees. If so, you’re not alone: one of the most common questions we get around the holidays is whether it's "bad" to cut down trees and bring them indoors for the holidays. Some even wonder if buying and reusing a plastic tree every year would be better.

Well, we’re here to alleviate these concerns for all Christmas-loving environmentalists by answering this question and more. And if you want to further reduce your environmental impact this holiday season, you can also check out our tips for a sustainable holiday!

Watch this Video to Learn What Christmas Tree to Buy

What’s the Deal With Artificial Trees?

Artificial trees can last several years, which might seem to make them the obvious sustainable choice, but they have some drawbacks. Because most are made from plastic, they will exist for thousands of years, slowly breaking down into microplastics and filling the bellies of sea turtles. They also have a hefty carbon footprint — to the tune of up to 88lbs of CO2 per tree, which is over 10X higher than that of a sustainably grown, properly recycled real Christmas tree. In fact, you would have to keep your fake Christmas tree for at least 10 years just to make its carbon impact the same — and that isn’t considering the environmental damage they cause as they slowly break down.

oak leaf christmas tree ornament

Real vs. Fake Christmas Trees: Which is Better

It may feel counter-intuitive, but it is more sustainable to cut down a real tree each year — and as long as it’s properly grown and disposed of, it can actually have a positive environmental effect. That’s because most small-scale Christmas tree farms are inherently sustainable, leaving certain sections open for harvesting every year, while keeping other areas closed to give younger trees a chance to grow.

This rotating cycle ensures that they will have a steady harvest of salable trees every year, but it also provides habitat for wildlife and protects the land from getting used for other purposes. In fact, many Christmas tree growers utilize steep hillsides that would otherwise be unsuitable for agricultural activities.

alternative christmas tree

And yes, there are bad actors out there that cut trees from primary forests — and we all know someone who has headed into the forest with a saw. But if you’re willing to spend a little time researching, you likely can find a small tree farm near you, where you’ll be able to see exactly where and how the trees are grown and managed. And don’t forget, real Christmas trees, like any houseplant, filter your home by removing dust and pollen from the air. So you’ll also be improving your indoor air quality, which tends to take a nosedive once everything is sealed up for winter.

Of course, you could also go full-on hippie and skip the indoor trees altogether, or get a live tree that can then be planted outdoors after the holidays (just make sure that it’s a native species). You could even bedazzle that massive fern in your living room. It’s 2020 — nobody here is gonna judge!

And finally, if you’re still worried about your holiday impact, consider planting a tree with us to offset your Christmas tree! 

We plant trees on 4 continents around the world. Want to choose where yours are planted?