Cutting down trees does NOT seem at all sustainable, but is a fake tree any better? What are my options??

As the holiday season approaches what will you choose? 

Around this time of the year we may start to have the debate of whether or not it is better to get an artificial tree or a real tree during the holidays. From a quick glance this debate could look simple. By buying an artificial tree we are not cutting down any trees and therefore it seems better then a real tree but this debate is actually a little more complex.

Let’s start with a few of the issues for both real and artificial trees. One of the problems that come from real trees is the impact that Christmas tree farms have on the ecosystem. In order to grow a bunch of trees you need the space which could affect the local environment as areas need to be cut down and planted with evergreens. Another issue is that most of the time the tree is just grown for one single season and then discarded. While some might be turned into mulch or compost, some also find their way tinto landfills or burned. 

Now let’s compare that to some of the problems with artificial trees. One of the major issues with artificial trees is that while you can use it for many holiday seasons to create, the trees manufacture depleted natural resources and also generate greenhouse gas emissions in the making of the artificial trees. You also still have the issue of the disposal of an artificial tree which unlike a real tree cannot be composted or mulched. Thus potentially creating more garbage down the line as artificial trees change in style, design, and materials. 

The CBC published an article based on an independent study by Montreal-based environmental consulting firm Ellipsos talking about whether it was greener to use a real or an artificial tree. The survey stated that:

“Real trees suck up carbon dioxide, but Ellipsos found there is debate about whether trees absorb more carbon than they release in their first 20 years — and Christmas trees are usually cut down during their teenage years.”

Both studies found that a real tree generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions per Christmas than an artificial one, but that changes if you keep your artificial tree for longer, since the emissions are divided over many years. To minimize the carbon impact, the studies say you should keep the same artificial tree for at least eight years, and preferably more than 20.

That said, both studies found the overall environmental impact of buying a Christmas tree is minimal compared to, say, flying or driving a few hours to spend Christmas with family and friends.”

So from that you might be wondering what the right answer is and really there isn’t one as both options have its cons. There are however some alternatives to the artificial vs real tree debate. One of these is getting a ‘living’ tree. Living trees give you a real tree that still has its roots intact. You decorate the tree and then are able to plant it back into the ground and use it again for multiple years. Another possible solution is to make your own christmas tree using recycled and/or natural materials. It also has the added benefit of you creating your own unique work of art. There is no shortage of ideas on pinterest or other crafty sites of what you can do.

At the end of the day though as the study from Ellipsos pointed out the overall impact of buying a Christmas tree is minimal to flying and driving. Also really it’s more down to a taste and convenience factor. So if you want to get an artificial tree, please do, just make sure you use it for at least eight years to help with any potential environmental impacts. Also take a look at making your own, or looking at where the artificial tree is being produced, and what materials are in it. If you want to go with a real tree consider a tree that can be replanted, and if you can’t find that in the area try to buy local and as sustainably as possible.

Below are some articles on the debate with various different points of view for you to do your own research on: