Decorating the Christmas tree is part of many family traditions during the holiday season. Sometimes it is a personal choice whether you choose a real Christmas tree or an artificial one. However, if you are looking to be environmentally friendly during the holidays, there can be a debate which tree is better.

In the United States, artificial trees grew in popularity through the late 90’s and early 2000’s, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll. In that same poll, 58 percent of people said they used an artificial tree rather than a real one.

artificial tree

For most people, the most logical choice would be artificial trees since they can be used several times instead of just once. However, if you dig deeper into the manufacturing process you will realize the eco-disadvantages. These trees are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which is a very environmentally offensive form of non-renewable, petroleum-derived plastic.

An independent study by Quebec-based Ellipsos found that an artificial tree with a life span of six years is three times worse for climate change, resource depletion and human health than a natural tree. When it comes time to throw out an artificial tree, it cannot be recycled. It will be taken to a landfill where it cannot be broken down and take up landfill space.

On the other hand, about 28 million real trees are sold in the United States each year. These real Christmas trees produce oxygen and have a smaller carbon footprint. They can also be recycled. Many trees are picked up curbside and turned into mulch. They are often placed on beaches to shore up dunes and sunk in lakes to serve as fish habitats.

It can be hard to measure the millions and millions of Christmas trees that are recycled each year due to recycling programs being implemented on a local level. However, tree-recycling efforts these days are now ubiquitous and easier than ever. For example, San Francisco has been collecting Christmas trees for the past 28 years where nearly 600 tons of trees are fed into a giant wood-chipper outside of City Hall and turned into mulch.

For the past seven years, the towering Christmas tree in New York’s Rockefeller Center has been donated to Habitat for Humanity. It started in 2007 when the tree went to build a home in Pascagoula, Mississippi, for a survivor of Hurricane Katrina.

rockefeller center tree

However, we did find a downside for real trees. They are four times worse because they require fertilizers and pesticides.

So, believe it or not, with the information we just gave you, I think it is safe to say that real Christmas trees are actually more environmentally friendly than artificial trees. If you already use a real Christmas tree, great job! You are contributing to tree-recycling efforts. If you use an artificial tree, consider the benefits of switching to a real tree. I don’t think you’ll regret the experience of walking around a tree farm trying to pick out the perfect tree with your family!