Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Real Tree or Fake Tree: What's the Greenest?

Linnaeus' first Christmas. The tree was a noble fir, I think.
I try to make environmentally friendly choices as often as I can in my day-to-day life, & Christmas is no exception. So naturally, I've done a little research on what kind of Christmas tree is the most eco-friendly option. Which is better, a real tree or a fake one? The answer is not short, definitely not a simple yes or no.

Your choices are between a fake tree, a cut real tree, & a live tree. But it depends on how far you'll travel to get your tree & how long you'll use it in the case of a potted or fake tree, & what you do with the cut tree when you're finished with it.

The Queen of Green, Lindsay Coulter, cites the Ellipsos analysis of real vs. fake & the winner is a natural tree. Their life cycle assessment factored in the impacts on climate change and resource depletion between real trees & artificial ones. About.com comes out in favour of a live tree, as does Elephant JournalEarth 911 makes the case for real trees as a carbon sink:
A single farmed tree absorbs more than 1 ton of CO2 throughout its lifetime. With more than 350 million real Christmas tress growing in U.S. tree farms alone, you can imagine the yearly amount of carbon sequestering associated with the trees. Additionally, each acre of trees produces enough oxygen for the daily needs of 18 people."
Pretty sure this one's fake.
Photo Credit: Curtis Gregory Perry via Compfight cc
The only sources I found that were solidly in the fake tree camp were Weather.com & The Christmas Tree Association, however, neither article factored live trees into the equation. The main reason fake won in their estimation was because of the environmental impact of transportation to & from tree farms, then to your homes. Driving once to a store every decade or so for a fake tree is a lot less carbon than shipping trees to a lot that people drive to & from, or having everyone drive out to the tree farm to cut their own.

Besides the environmental impact of artificial trees, there's the human cost to consider. The 2003 Washington Post article gives a sense of where fake trees are made (85% in Chinese factories, the majority of those in one city) & what the wages & working conditions are like there. When it comes to tree farms, pesticide exposure is the concern for workers. However, this Mother Jones piece states that Christmas trees don't require a lot of pesticide & farms usually use about a quarter the pesticides of what's typically used on apple trees.

The big downside I see to both fake trees & potted ones is storage: if you live in a condo or a small house, you may not have space to store the tree the 11 months of the year you're not using it. Cut trees are an advantage here, because they can be "treecycled" at the end of the season. If you live in a house, the city will pick them up alongside your garbage in January, if you're in a multifamily building & don't have curbside pickup, you can drop them off at various chipping locations through the city.

I think we've found the perfect solution to the dilemma here in Vancouver: Treekeepers. They are selling two sizes of live potted tree, several different varieties, for $15-30 each. The trees are available for pickup on December 6 in Kits & December 14 in East Van. When Christmas is over & you are finished with your tree, you can do one of three things with it: keep it in a pot outside your home, plant it in your yard if you have one, or join the Treekeepers Planting Party in January & help reforest Everett Crowley Park. You can get more information & order online here on Treekeepers

We ordered a Norway Spruce & will either keep it potted as a Christmas tree, or plant it in our yard. Watch Spokesmama on Instagram for photos of pickup day!

If you've already bought a fake tree, the most eco-friendly thing you can do is to keep it & use it as long as possible! There are lots of other things you can do to green your Christmas--I've written a few posts about it in past years here, & here.

Follow Spokesmama here too:


  1. We often do both a fake tree and a real tree. We bought a fake one 12 years ago when we lived in an apartment that did not allow real trees. If we don't feel like going out to get a real tree...up goes the fake one. Or we put it in a different room, with the more breakable ornaments on it. The kids get a huge kick out of going to the tree farm and picking the tree for their Papa to cut down. The tree farms are pretty close to our house though, only about 15 min away. We haven't decided which route we will go this year. Nice to have the choice though! Oh, we also have 2 or 3 smaller sized fake trees that get put in in various parts of the house too. Overkill maybe??? ;)

    1. Ha! That is a lot of trees. Travel time to the tree farm is definitely a factor in the equation, so you're at an advantage there over us inner city dwellers. ;) Keeping the fake trees & using them for the long haul also helps offset the environmental cost of making them & disposing of them. & in the big picture, Christmas trees are a small part of our negative impact on the environment--there are lots of other things we can do to be greener. :)


Thanks for commenting! (I've had to enable comment moderation on older posts to thwart spammers, so your post may not appear right away.)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...