The Reality of Christmas Trees: the Good and the Bad

It's that time of year again, when the holiday season sneaks up on you, and millions of people begin to decorate their homes for Christmas. If you are part of the 76% of Americans that decided to put up a Christmas tree in 2018, you know that the yearly debate is always the same: should you purchase a real tree, or an artificial one? Keep reading to find out the good, the bad, and the reality of the Christmas tree tradition.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), it is projected that 32.8 million real Christmas trees were purchased in 2018, which is 5.4 million more real trees than were purchased in 2017. This is a large number, seeing that only 23.6 million artificial trees were purchased in 2018. The average cost of a real Christmas tree also went up from $75 to $78 from 2017 to 2018, while the average cost of an artificial tree went down from $107 to $104. The burning question is, why are more people incited to purchase a real tree, instead of an artificial one? Many people say that both real and artificial trees have a negative effect on the environment, and that there are pros and cons each way. We have decided to do the research for you, so you can make an educated purchase, and learn how you can help the environment while enjoying your Christmas tree this year.

Artificial Trees & the Environment

According to the NCTA, of the 76% of Americans that put up Christmas trees, 80% decide to put up artificial trees. This does not mean that all of those households purchase artificial trees every year, as most households reuse their artificial trees. However, 80% of these artificial trees that are purchased are made in China and shipped to the U.S. every year. That means that, in 2018, there were 18.88 million fake trees that were produced, shipped, and purchased. This does not even include all of the fake trees that were produced, shipped, and NOT purchased. Artificial trees are made from oil and PVC plastic, which are not easily recyclable, and thus carry a large carbon footprint. The mere production of an artificial tree creates a carbon footprint of 40 kg of CO2, which does not include the CO2 produced in the shipment of these trees. This carbon footprint becomes even larger due to the fact that, after the artificial tree is done being used, the tree is not easily recyclable for the average person, and will most likely end up in a landfill. According to the UK's Carbon Trust, an artificial Christmas tree needs to be re-used for 10-12 years to offset its carbon footprint. Unfortunately, 40% of consumers of artificial trees plan to keep their tree from 1-5 years, and 40% plan to keep their tree from 6-10 years.

Natural Trees & the Environment

To compare an artificial tree's carbon footprint to a real tree, a real tree that is turned into wood chips or mulch has a carbon footprint of only 3.5 kg of CO2. If that natural tree is not recycled and ends up decomposing in a landfill, it still only has a carbon footprint of 16 kg CO2. Although there are many people who believe that cutting down a tree every year is bad for the environment, it is anything but! Only 2% of natural Christmas trees are taken from the wild, which leaves the other 98% coming from Christmas tree farms. Every time a Christmas tree is cut down, the tree farmer will plant one or more seeds in its place, in order to ensure the farm has enough trees in the future. According to the New York Times, natural Christmas trees are biodegradable, are typically grown in places that are not suitable for other crops, and of course provide proper habitats for many wild animals. In addition to this, just one acre of natural Christmas trees provides enough oxygen for 18 people to get through the whole day. As of 2018, there are 350,000 acres of Christmas trees growing in the U.S. alone, which means that Christmas trees provide enough oxygen for 6.3 million people every day.

Economics & More

Although the production of artificial trees is much less beneficial for the environment than the production of real trees, artificial trees can provide a more economical solution for most consumers. Despite the fact that the average price of an artificial Christmas tree is rising every year, most consumers reuse their artificial trees for many years. Reusing a $100 artificial tree for even 5 years means that you will be spending $25 per year on that tree. Reusing the same tree for 10 years means that you would be spending only $10 every year on that tree! This is appealing to many consumers, especially those who are wanting to be economically practical. In comparison to spending $78 on a natural tree every year, as well as the cost in transportation and care, purchasing an artificial tree can be the more economical idea for some consumers. However, in addition to being better for the environment than artificial trees, natural Christmas trees are also economically practical in that they provide many jobs to contribute to the social and economic health of our country. According to the NCTA, there are about 15,000 Christmas tree farms in the U.S., and around 100,000 people are employed by those farms. As 80% of artificial trees come from across the ocean, they do not necessarily provide direct jobs for our society. Although natural Christmas trees are a renewable source, However, there are negative things about natural Christmas trees, just like there are about artificial ones.

One main con to natural trees is that some people suffer from allergies that prevent them from comfortably living with one in their home. Although all of the allergy-inducing pollen found in most evergreens is gone by wintertime, evergreens are also a source for mold spores to thrive. Natural trees are stored in outdoor conditions, and while they are a great habitat for cute wild animals like squirrels and birds, they are also a habitat for not-so-cute outdoor critters. Most likely your beautiful, real Christmas tree that you bring in your house is a home for bugs like mites, bark beetles, and aphids. Not to mention that real Christmas trees need much more care than artificial ones. Real trees must be watered, lose pine needles all over your floor, and are more likely to be unsteady and fall over if they are not cut right. Another con to purchasing real trees is the fact that they are not easily reusable, and if you do not have the ability to replant your tree, you need to buy a new one every year. As mentioned before, the average price of a natural tree in 2018 was $78. It is understandable that not everyone can budget to spend that much every year on a tree, and thus it seems as if artificial trees are the most economically sustainable, as well as far less likely to bring in unwanted mold or bugs into your home.


There are pros and cons to both natural and artificial trees, but whichever kind of tree you decide to purchase, there are ways to make them sustainable. As we have established, the sustainable lifespan of an artificial tree is 10 years or more. If you decide to purchase an artificial tree, or you already have an artificial tree that you use every year, try and use that tree for as long as you can! If you decide the tree does not fit your needs anymore, consider donating the tree to a local thrift store or charity, rather than throwing it away and letting it take up space in a landfill. Even more than this, consider purchasing your artificial trees from used-goods stores or thrift stores to do your part in cutting down the production of artificial trees. If you decide to purchase a natural tree, we advise that you buy from a local Christmas tree farm to help support their jobs and to cut down on gas you may waste during travel time. When discarding of a natural tree, please attempt to avoid throwing it away or burning it, as this increases the carbon footprint of the tree. There are plenty of recycling center that will accept your old trees, so find a local service that you can either drop the tree off to or have them pick it up--they will recycle it into mulch or wood chips instead of letting it decompose in a landfill. If you are the do-it-yourself type, consider purchasing a natural Christmas tree with roots. After you have used the tree in your home, you can replant your tree in your yard, and use it year after year!

In Conclusion...

There are pros and cons to both types of Christmas trees. However, if you shop smart and think ahead, there are ways to make both artificial and natural trees environmentally and economically friendly. The reality is that a majority of people do not consider the effects that the purchase and disposal of trees has on the environment and the economy, but the sheer number of Christmas trees purchased every year means that we need to start realizing the impact that they have. Smart shopping and proper recycling or disposal of artificial and natural trees is the first step to minimizing the negative effects that both kinds of trees may have on the environment. It is important that those who purchase Christmas trees do so wisely, and keep in mind the level that they are capable of recycling them.

With your new knowledge of the impact that Christmas trees can have on our environment and society, shop smartly this year, and remember to chose the one that is best for you! Share your Christmas trees with us on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #PLGKC.

8826 Santa Fe Drive Suite 300,

Overland Park, KS 66212

Tel: 913-362-0089

© 2017 Principal Landscape Group, LLC

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