Mother Earth Living Blogs > Wiser Living

Wiser Living

Finding a natural solution

Eco-Friendly Christmas Trees: Live or Artificial?

by Susan Melgren, Web Editor

Tags: Christmas, tree, Christmas tree, home decor,

Because of space limitations and the fact that I always go to my parents' house for Christmas, I’ve never bought my own Christmas tree. This year I’ve moved to a different place where I have space for a tree. I’d like to get my own Christmas tree, but I don’t know which is more eco-friendly: an artificial tree or a real tree

Even though my father has allergies, my family has always displayed a live tree, which before our hectic lives set in we hand-picked (and sawed down) from a nearby Christmas tree farm, so I’m naturally inclined to pick a live tree. However, I recently acquired an artificial tree from my aunt, and although I had to sell it (I didn’t know it was 9 feet tall before I brought it home!), that has gotten me thinking about the advantages of an artificial tree as well.

I did some research on the subject, and here’s what I found about eco-friendly Christmas trees:

Artificial Trees


Allergy-free: Artificial trees are good for people who have allergies or asthma, or people who are allergic to terpene, a substance found in the oil or sap of many Christmas trees. My current roommate has allergies, so an artificial tree might be a better choice for us.

Cost and Durability: An artificial tree can cost anywhere from $20 to $1,200 depending on the tree’s size, quality and whether it’s pre-lit or not. No matter the price, one thing is for sure: that tree is an investment. Most artificial Christmas trees last for an average of six years. You may be putting down some money now, but at least you won’t be spending it again next year.

No mess, No fuss: Many artificial trees today are pre-lit and easy to install: just pull the branches down. Some even come pre-decorated, too. And unlike a real tree, you won’t have to water it or vacuum up pine needles for the next few weeks. It’s virtually no hassle.

White Christmas tree
Aritifical Christmas trees come in a variety of sizes, colors and stages of decoration, but most have a large environmental footprint. Photo By Julie Leone/Courtesy Flickr. 


Carbon footprint: Artificial trees may be easy on you, but they’re not so easy on the environment. The trees are made from petroleum and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which can outgas into your home. To make matters worse, most artificial trees are shipped from China. A study from the American Christmas Tree Association claimed that artificial trees are healthier for the environment because they cut down on the costs of transporting a real tree home every year, but my common sense tells me differently. The distance from my house to the local Home Depot or Christmas tree farm seems a lot less than the distance from my house to China, even when multiplied by 6 to 10 times.

Non-biodegradable: Whereas a live Christmas tree can be recycled and will eventually biodegrade, an artificial one will not. PVC is not biodegradable, and if incinerated, PVC creates dioxins.

Live Tree


Renewable, Recyclable: Although it seems counterintuitive to the green consumer to participate in a practice akin to deforestation, live Christmas trees are renewable. Once Christmas is over, your live tree can be taken to a recycling center and turned into mulch. While displaying a live tree does require chopping down a real tree every year, at least you know your Christmas decoration won’t sit in a landfill for centuries. In addition, most tree farms plant one to three trees for every one that is cut.

Shop local: A live tree bought locally has less distance to travel than an artificial tree made overseas, meaning a live tree will have a smaller carbon footprint.

Scent: Who doesn’t love that fresh scent of pine?

Live Christmas tree
Picking out a tree from a local Christmas tree farm contributes to the local economy as well as helps cut down on the carbon footprint of your Christmas decorations. Photo By randomdepth/Courtesy Flickr. 


High-maintenance: Live Christmas trees require a lot more work than artificial trees. They don’t come in a neat box, they must be watered and they’ll drop pine needles on your floor for weeks. (And let’s not forget how difficult it is to get the tree standing up straight in the stand.)

Pesticides: To control pests, Christmas trees are sprayed with chemicals. Residue on cut trees is minimal, but the pesticides have been found in groundwater and well water.

There’s no clear answer on which tree is more eco-friendly. What it comes down to is which issues matter most to you. Personally, I’d like to stick with a live tree. What about you? What kind of Christmas tree do you have?