Living Christmas Tree or Artificial: Which is More Eco-Friendly?

Living Christmas Tree, Living Christmas Tree or Artificial: Which is More Eco-Friendly?, The Travel Bug Bite

For the first time ever, I have a living Christmas tree in my home. Growing up I always had an artificial one. My parents didn’t want the hassle of a living tree so we used the same artificial one for 20 years. When my parents moved back to Ukraine from Prague, they brought it with them and continue to use it. That makes the tree almost as old as I am! When my parents moved away and took the tree, I bought a new artificial one.

Unfortunately, I ended up moving overseas twice since and sold, then bought a new artificial tree in every new country. At my current home, I have three artificial trees that I plan on keeping for 30+ years and, for the first time ever, a living tree! Artificial trees are made out of plastic which is not eco-friendly. However, if you plan on having one artificial tree for 30 years, is that better than cutting down a new tree every year? Or is buying a tree grown specifically for Christmas on an organic local farm the greener option?

Living Christmas Tree Pros

Contrary to common beliefs, Christmas trees do not contribute to deforestation. Christmas trees are grown specifically to be sold during Christmas time. The most eco-friendly option is to buy one with an attached root ball. When Christmas is over, you can replant the tree and let it continue to absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, and provide a home for animals. Getting a live tree without a root ball is the second best option, as long as you dispose of the tree correctly after the holidays.

  • Living Christmas trees smell amazing and look better than artificial trees
  • You can support local farmers by buying their trees
  • Depending on the tree you get, you can replant it after the holidays
  • You can dispose of any live tree correctly in a way that will be eco-friendly
  • Living Christmas trees do not contribute to plastic waste
  • Before they are harvested, living Christmas trees benefit the environment if they are grown without pesticides on an organic farm
  • It is easy to figure out which trees are grown locally for a sustainable purchase

The living tree that we found was grown at a local farm and we only drove 5 miles to pick it up! When it didn’t fit into our Tesla (they didn’t offer wrapping – which is great, because that’s wasteful), they offered to drive it over to our home themselves.

Artificial Christmas Tree Pros

Although artificial trees are less eco-friendly than live ones, there are many perks to using them. According to research, they can be a greener option if you use it for 20+ years. Also, make sure to buy one that is made locally and doesn’t contain any PVC. Unfortunately, most artificial trees are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is a known carcinogen and one of the most environmentally damaging types of petroleum-derived plastic. In addition to this, lead is often used as a stabilizer in PVC, which means your fake Christmas tree may be shedding lead dust on your Christmas presents.

However, there are many perks:

  • An artificial Christmas tree will never die, rot or attract insects
  • Even the cheaper, lower quality artificial trees can last forever
  • The branches can be arranged exactly how you want them
  • The branches can be bent to hold ornaments well
  • They are super compact and can be stored easily and reassembled in minutes
  • There is a minimal mess – some plastic needles will shed but not nearly as much as live trees
  • You don’t need to transport it from the farm or anywhere to dispose of it correctly
  • You can buy uniquely colored ones: white, pink, red, rainbow, etc.

Buy a used tree or a locally produced one and use it for years to minimize your footprint. A living tree isn’t appropriate for everyone and there’s no shame in getting an artificial one. However, keep in mind that not all artificial trees are made the same and some are greener than others.

Living Christmas Tree Cons

Much like the fruit and vegetables we eat, real Christmas trees are grown as a crop with the purpose of being cut down. To help keep their business going and make sure they always have healthy trees, Christmas tree farmers typically plant 4 or 5 new trees for every one they cut. It takes around 8 to 10 years for trees to reach an acceptable height for selling. During that time, they provide a habitat for wildlife. Plus, the soil they’re growing in can actually absorb about 10 times as much carbon as the actual tree. – Earth Friendly Tips

  • Transporting living Christmas trees can be costly and not eco-friendly, always buy local
  • The are messy and require more care than artificial trees
  • The fragrance of live trees can be irritating to people with sensitivities
  • Some trees may have mold spores that trigger asthma or allergies, causing symptoms like sneezing or an itchy nose
  • Live trees must be recycled properly to avoid damaging the environment
  • Living trees are a lot more expensive
  • Living trees are harder to hang ornaments on
  • They may attract pests
  • Living trees may tempt your pets to eat or destroy them
  • Living trees are wrapped in plastic for transport, this contributes to plastic pollution and isn’t recyclable
  • Live trees are literally dying in your home, which can put a damper on Chrismtas

Despite all the cons of living Christmas trees, they are the more eco-friendly option. Consider buying one locally, not wrapping it, and mulching it after use. I will write a post on eco-friendly disposal in a few months. For now, you can read about it here. Keep in mind that many cities offer to pick them up, here is the info on Rhode Island where we live.

Artificial Christmas Tree Cons

Artificial Christmas trees are the less green option, especially if you don’t plan on using it for years to come. They also come with a lot of downsides that you should consider before you purchase one.

  • Plastic doesn’t smell good, sometimes it even smells BAD
  • They shed micro plastic that destroys the planet
  • Artificial trees cannot be recycled
  • They are sometimes made with PVC which contains lead
  • They are not as pretty as living Christmas trees
  • Artificial trees are often made in China and the long-distance transport is bad for the planet
  • They take up space in your home when not in use
  • They weigh less and fall over more easily

Despite all the cons, some people need to have an artificial Christmas tree due to sensitivities, asthma, etc. There is no shame in choosing to have one. You can still be green by buying one that’s made locally, using eco-friendlier plastics, and if you plan on using it indefinitely. So think twice before buying a rainbow one, unless you plan on having a colorful Christmas for the next 20 years (I kind of like the sound of that TBH!)

Summary: Living Christmas Tree or Artificial?

There are pros and cons of both live and artificial Christmas trees. The most eco-friendly is buying a live tree from a local farm, that you transport without wrapping and re-plant after using. Regular living trees are also a great option as long as you recycle them afterwards. Artificial trees are not the best for the planet, but they can be a greener if you purchase locally, make sure it’s made from less harmful plastics and re-use it for 20+ years.

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Living Christmas Tree, Living Christmas Tree or Artificial: Which is More Eco-Friendly?, The Travel Bug Bite

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