Real vs Artificial Trees

Both real trees and fake trees have pros and cons when it comes to the environment. The “most sustainable” option depends on a variety of factors and may be different for each person. Also, it’s important to note that many people can’t afford or aren’t allowed to have a real tree – and that’s perfectly fine! No option is perfect, but you should consider some things before purchasing a tree… 

Artificial Trees

Fake trees can be reused for many years and don’t involve cutting down trees. However, 90% of artificial trees are shipped from China, and they’re made up of different types of plastics, so these are almost impossible to recycle. At the end of its life, a fake tree almost always ends up in the landfill.

Purchasing a used artificial tree is the best way to avoid these environmental issues associated with artificial trees. Reuse the tree for as long as you can – if it has pre-strung lights that have died, cut them off and buy string lights! It’s much more sustainable than buying a whole new tree.

Real Trees

On the other hand, real trees help sequester carbon, and tree farms provide some habitat for wildlife. Some tree farms, unfortunately, are made by cutting down natural forests, which provide a better habitat and benefit the ecosystem more. Large tree farms often use heavy amounts of pesticides, too. Although unnecessary, many real trees end up in the landfills each year.

The best way to avoid some of these negative environmental impacts is by purchasing a real tree from a small, local tree farm (ask them about their pesticide usage!) and making sure it doesn’t end up in a landfill. Many cities, like Knoxville, have curbside brush pick-up services that will also pick up Christmas trees in the winter to turn them into mulch. You could also take your tree to a lawn company that will grind the tree for mulch, or a goat farm that will use the trees for feed. 

Most Sustainable Options

In the end, both real and artificial Christmas trees have environmental impacts. The top two most sustainable options for buying a Christmas tree are: a used artificial tree or a real tree from a local tree farm. If you can’t find a used artificial tree and can’t buy a real tree, you should try to use your new artificial tree for at least 10 years to help negate the tree’s environmental footprint. 


Realistically, the greatest issue around the holidays is overconsumption and excessive waste – don’t spend hours arguing about the most sustainable tree option. Instead, make a decision to be mindful about all the decorations, gifts, foods, wrapping supplies, and companies you support. Sustainability in the holiday season is a challenge we all can work toward together with a progress over perfection mindset!

Sources & More

The Nature Conservancy: Real vs. Fake—Which Christmas Tree Is Better for the Environment?

One Tree Planted: Real vs. Fake Christmas Trees: Which is Better for the Environment?

Soil Association: Eco-Friendly Christmas Trees – Real vs. Fake?

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