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Artificial Christmas Trees - Eco Friendly or Not?

Updated on August 12, 2012
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Are artificial Christmas trees eco-friendly or not? After all, they are manufactured from plastics, transported thousands of miles, and end up in a landfill slowly deteriorating and releasing toxins into the soil for decades - maybe even centuries. Could they be more earth-friendly than a real tree?

The truth is that there are negatives and benefits to both types of trees and only you can decide which is the best choice for your family.

Artificial trees allow you to decorate earlier and enjoy the decor longer.
Artificial trees allow you to decorate earlier and enjoy the decor longer. | Source

Pros and Cons of Real Christmas Trees

Cons of Real Trees

Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degredation (REDD) is a system created to keep forests from being cut down. The goal of the program is to preserve trees from being harvested because they release large amounts of stored carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas. Trees are harvested by the millions during the Christmas season, contributing to the greenhouse effect.

Even on a commercial tree farm, the trees create habitat for local wildlife and birds.

Pesticides are usually used on the trees to handle pests. Unless the tree is organic the pesticides may be toxic to the environment. The pesticides enter the water supply from run-off into local streams and rivers, killing wildlife and fish. These pesticides are still on the trees when your children are happy reaching into the branches to put on their favorite ornaments.

Real Christmas trees are a fire hazard as they dry out over the weeks.

Over a period of ten years you will spend well over $700.00 on Christmas trees that you will throw out in January every year.

Pros of Real Christmas Trees

Most live Christmas trees are grown on tree farms. These farms exist in all 50 states which means you can get them from a local source. Fewer transportation miles means less pollution from fuels are released into the atmosphere.

They make your house smell really good!

Buying a live tree supports the local economy by supporting local farmers and their families.

When Christmas is over the tree can be turned into mulch, benefiting the environment.

Some families enjoy cutting their own Christmas tree.
Some families enjoy cutting their own Christmas tree. | Source
via: amazon
via: amazon

Pros and Cons of Artificial Trees

Cons of Fake Christmas Trees

Most artificial trees are manufactured outside the United States. Much of the money you spend does not help the local economy. Items that are not American made are sometimes of a lesser quality than those items that are.

There are chemicals involved in the creating of an artificial tree. For example, lead is commonly used in the manufacturing process. These chemicals can be outgassed into your home for years.

Artificial trees don't degrade. Once it is thrown away it will spend the next several decades releasing toxins into the environment from its spot in the local landfill.

Pros of Artificial Trees

Artificial trees will last for a very long time if they are taken care of. The first Christmas tree I put up after my marriage was given to us by my parents - who had bought it over 20 years before. We used it for another six years or so.

Since you aren't buying a new tree every year you save money and the environmental impact of the manufacturing process is diminished.

They are fire resistant.

They do not drop needles all over the floor.

Many of the new trees have features like fiber-optic or LED lighting that use a fraction of the electricity of conventional lights.

Prelit Artificial Christmas Trees Save Electricity

Prelit trees are all ready wired with all of the lights you will need. If a light goes out it can be replaced. There is no need to remove the lights, just take the tree down according to the instructions and it is ready to be put up again next year.

Make sure that you are getting a tree with the number of lights that you like. The less expensive ones will usually have fewer lights so keep that in mind. You can get the prelit trees in many styles, with either white lights or colors. There are also other options to consider like fiber optics or LED lighting.

Fiber Optic Christmas Trees

Fiber optic lights save energy and can be programmed many different ways. Fiber optics are plastic or glass tubes that carry the light. You can get a variety of effects with this type of lighting.

LED Christmas Trees

LED lights are also an energy saving choice. The look more traditional than the fiber optic lights and come in both the mini lights and the vintage light styles. Depending on the lights you get you are looking at 5,000 to 20,000 hours of light.

Flocked Artificial Christmas Trees

Flocked trees give you the look of snowy boughs on a winter morning. The flocking ingredient is usually cellulose, an all natural, wax based, non-toxic material. The flocked trees are more expensive than the ones that are not flocked - and you can get both artificial and real trees that have been magically "snowed on" using this technique. Of course, you can expect to pay a little more for it!

You can flock your own Christmas tree. Just buy the flocking spray and use it on your tree according to the directions on the can. This is a great way to “spruce” up a used artificial tree that you may have found at a thrift shop.

The flocking may be put on just lightly, like a dusting of snowflakes, or it may be thick enough to make the tree look white. Which look you decide on is totally up to your own taste and desire.

Buying Used Artificial Christmas Trees

You can buy used artificial trees in thrift stores, on eBay, and at garage sales for pennies on the dollar. In doing so you will be keeping the tree out of the landfill longer. Just make sure that it has been well taken care of and is in good condition. The longer an artificial tree is used the less negative impact overall it has on the environment.

A tree that is used for 20 years has less impact on the environment than a real tree. If you plan on getting a new one every few years then the real tree is probably the better choice.

A Third Choice

The most environmentally friendly choice for a Christmas tree is probably a live tree with root ball. After the holidays are over you can plant it in your yard or donate it to the city for planting. These trees are usually much smaller and more expensive, however. That is where the trade-off will be.

Each person ultimately has to decide for themselves which type of tree works best for their family and situation. No one type of tree is right in every situation. Use common sense and make the choice that seems right for you.


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    • profile image

      ACTA 7 years ago

      The truth is that neither an artificial or a farmed Christmas tree has a significant impact on the environment, especially when compared with driving a car, for instance. While artificial Christmas trees are valued for their convenience, ease of use and longevity, consumers can feel good about either choice. The bottom line is that we should all be able to enjoy the holidays with whatever Christmas tree fits our budget and our lifestyle. Fortunately, there are Christmas trees, both farmed and artificial, that fit everyone's needs.

    • chilario1979 profile image

      chilario1979 8 years ago from Tallahassee, Florida

      nice hub!

    • profile image

      Audrevea 8 years ago

      I have a fake tree, but I've had it for years and it's still going strong.

      If I owned a big house I'd spring for a real tree each year, but the fold-down kind is handy.

    • Vizey profile image

      Vizey 8 years ago

      Good point well asked and explained. I think i should look for any alternative of plastic. Lets see how it works?

    • dusanotes profile image

      dusanotes 8 years ago from Windermere, FL

      Marye, this is not only timely and well written, but you informed me about toxins in artificial trees that I hadn't even thought about. We have one, but it's been years and no one has gotten ill, so I guess it's okay to continue to use it despite the fact my wife is allergic to most perfumes, smoke, mold, and other things. Thanks again for turning our minds and hearts to Christmas. Don White

    • kartika damon profile image

      kartika damon 8 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

      You make good points - perhaps we need to think outside of the box - I did natural for years and then bought an artificial - now I just put up a wreath and do very simple things inside - there is lots you can do without a tree!

    • Song-Bird profile image

      Renee Hanlon 8 years ago from Michigan

      My husband and I bought a prelit tree about five years ago and I love it. Every year I kind of hold my breath before plugging in the lights though, wondering if they are still going to work. So far so good! I wonder how many years you can get out of a prelit tree before the lights stop working?


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