Real vs. Fake Christmas Tree - Which is the More Eco-Friendly Option?

Family around the Christmas tree
Are real or fake Christmas trees better for the environment?

 Real vs. Fake Christmas Tree 

No yuletide season is complete without a Christmas tree. They’re the most popular holiday decorations to signal the start of the most wonderful time of the year. They can be found anywhere and are hard to miss come December. Preparing for the holiday season means reading up about Christmas decorating and shopping tips. But have you ever pondered about which tree is better to use? A fake one or a real one?


But for many years now, there’s been an ongoing debate about which one is more sustainable and truly eco-friendly: a real tree or an artificial one made of plastic. If you’re still undecided about which one to get this year, you’re in luck. In this article, we’ll break down their advantages and disadvantages to help you come up with a smart and informed decision as to which one makes a perfect Christmas tree for your home that’s also kinder to the environment. 


Real Christmas Trees — The Benefits and Drawbacks


picking a real Christmas tree
Choosing a real Christmas tree with family

According to the National Christmas Trees Association, about 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. annually, and approximately 350 million trees are planted on farms in 50 states and Canada. The most popular varieties used as real Christmas trees include the balsam fir, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, white pine, white spruce, and Colorado blue spruce. 


Here are some undisputed benefits of getting a real tree.

  • Natural Scent - When it comes to setting your home in a festive mood, many may argue that nothing beats a real tree because of its authentic and refreshing scent of pine needles, effortlessly transforming your home into a cabin in the woods.


  • Aesthetic Quality - Like houseplants, real trees have that unique appeal that can elevate your interiors. It needs minimal glamming up because it’s already pretty on its own. No wonder some like their au naturel with a string of Christmas lights.
  • Timeless Tradition - Choosing a tree and giddily hauling it into your car is an unforgettable experience for the young and the young-at-heart.


  • 100% Recyclable - Unlike artificial trees made of plastic, real trees are completely biodegradable, making them easy to recycle and turn into mulch and compost once the holiday season is over. In fact, 93% of Christmas trees sold every year are recycled through over 4,000 programs in local communities.

  • Support Local Farmers - There are close to 15,000 Christmas tree farms throughout the country, which employ nearly 100,000 people every year. Buying a real tree means supporting local vendors and farmers and helping provide seasonal employment to those who need it.


Despite its many advantages, choosing a real tree may also have its downside. Here are some examples.


  • Trigger Allergies - The mold and pine scent may cause sneezing, headaches, and discomfort in people with allergic rhinitis and asthma.

  • A Bit Messy - Real trees will shed pine needles constantly 40 days after being chopped. This means having one will require a quick home cleaning routine, which involves sweeping or vacuuming daily. Make your home ready for Christmas with these holiday cleaning tips.

  • Pet Hazard - While generally non-toxic to pets, the pine needles of real trees can cause oral irritation and stomach upset when swallowed.

  • Risk of pesticide exposure – Real trees are typically treated with pesticides to prevent insects and plant diseases.

  • Nature Imbalance - According to Greenpeace, monocropping to produce millions of real Christmas trees can displace biodiverse natural ecosystems.

Artificial Christmas Trees — The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

artificial trees
Decorate your artificial trees


In the U.S., more and more people are opting for artificial trees because they’ll never wilt, allowing them to hold on to their holiday decorations much longer. 

Aside from the obvious that they’ll last forever, the undeniable advantages of fake trees include:


  • Reusable - Fake trees are convenient because they’re reusable. Simply pack it up and store it when not in use and you may never have to drag another heavy tree home again.
  • Allergy-Friendly - No strong pine scent and molds, although you have to deep clean every year before setting up because they can be a magnet for dust, which can also trigger allergies.

  • Low Maintenance - Aside from the cleaning during the initial setup, fake trees don’t shed their needles every day, so there is no need to vacuum.

  • Flame Retardant – Most fake trees are treated to withstand fires, keeping you and your family safer. 

However, faux Christmas trees are notoriously made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), one of the most problematic plastics that cause pollution, from production to end-of-life disposal. It’s a non-biodegradable, petroleum-derived plastic that releases carcinogenic substances during manufacturing.


Some of the other most notable cons of fake trees that will make you think twice about them are:

  • High Carbon Footprint– Often, the artificial trees you get from big box stores are mass-produced in factories in China. From production to shipping logistics alone, this means high carbon fuel emissions, the biggest culprit behind climate change.

  • Risks Of Exposure to Harmful Chemicals and PVCs – Yes, fake trees are coated in flame retardant chemicals, minimizing the possibility that they’ll catch fire. Still, these same substances can also be toxic and carcinogenic, especially to children.

  • Not Recyclable – Trees made from non-biodegradable PVC will never decompose and are difficult to recycle and so they frequently end up in landfills, making garbage and land pollution even worse. 

The Most Eco-Friendly Way to Celebrate Christmas

Person decorating the Christmas tree
Enjoy time with the family decorating for Christmas

Fake or real — go for the real deal if an allergy is not an issue. Make sure you get it from a local, sustainable tree farm that does not use pesticides and offers hassle-free ways to compost your tree after the holidays. Or better yet, go the extra mile by getting a potted live tree, like the Norfolk Island Pine, that you can take care of indoors as a houseplant and glam up come to Christmastime. 

On the other hand, if, for some reason, you really want to get a fake tree, make an effort to invest in a high-quality product that will last for many Christmasses, or shop preloved faux trees from vintage shops or thrift stores to lower your carbon footprint. 

Lastly, you can also use your imagination and create your own DIY Christmas tree using organic or recyclable materials, like old cardboard boxes. That will definitely be a fun bonding activity for the whole family.

Author: Elizabeth Shields writes for Deluxe Maid. She is a creative homemaker, a voracious reader, and advocates for zero-waste and sustainable lifestyle practices. She believes everything we do to be kinder to the environment counts.

Inveigle Magazine

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