Real Christmas Tree or Fake? Why We Say Real is Greener

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It’s the Christmas debate to end all debates among anyone who is green leaning: Should you opt for a real Christmas tree or a fake one? When Walmart challenged me to share a unique Christmas story, I thought this was a great time to discuss this.

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Logic might dictate that cutting down a tree is not the greenest thing in the world to do, no matter the reason. That an artificial tree that you can use every year from now ’til death do us part will preserve the most resources. But this is a situation in which context is important. Cutting down a random pine tree from an old-growth forest is obviously a horrible idea, but what if the tree comes from a Christmas tree farm?

Before I go any further, let’s consider these factors:

A REAL TREE…

AN ARTIFICIAL TREE…

Dies after a few weeks and must be disposed and replaced each year Can be reused every year, for a very long time if it is taken care of
Must be bought new every year Can be purchased secondhand
Can be sourced from a local tree farm Likely was manufactured overseas, then shipped to a U.S. retailer. A vast majority of artificial trees actually come from China.
Biodegradable Made of plastic and other materials that will stay in the landfill for years after you throw it out
Unlikely to contain chemicals Contain chemicals like PVC and lead
Carbon neutral because trees absorb CO2 Plastic is a by-product of petroleum and creates carbon emissions
Can be replanted, recycled or composted Can be reused, but not recycled once you decide to get rid of it
Renewable resource when sourced from a tree farm that replants new trees every year Petroleum, used to make plastic, is a non-renewable resource

Has it become obvious why my family chooses a real tree each year? Yes, an artificial tree can be used again and again. However, that is one of only two advantages it has over real trees, and in my opinion, the cons far outweigh the pros. A real tree will not offgas, and will eventually biodegrade no matter how you dispose of it. A fake tree very likely will have come from overseas, and it will live for eternity in a landfill once it is disposed.

Still, there are some reasons for choosing an artificial tree. My sister — while not diagnosed as allergic — cannot stand the smell of fresh pine, so I know she will never use a real tree. However, she has been using the same fake one for years. As long as she keeps it, no harm, no foul. So I do want to say that if you already have a fake tree and it’s still in good condition, the greenest options for you are to keep using it, or donate or sell it so that someone else can use it and it doesn’t end up in the landfill.

Whichever way you decide to go, Walmart has you covered. My local store had a virtual forest of real trees available in a wide variety of sizes. We chose a 6-foot Douglas Fir tree for just $27.

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They also had a huge selection of artificial trees in every flavor — from small to large, unlit to prelit, green to white. The idea, though, is to get something that will last for the long haul and not outlive your tastes. So even if a pink or gold Christmas tree seems like a great idea now, think about whether you’ll want to use the same one in five years. (aff)

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We like to change the look of our Christmas tree from year to year by choosing a fun new color palette. This year, we’re going bright: Turquoise, green, pink and orange. Here’s the finished tree:

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And no, the elf (her name is Tinsel) isn’t a permanent part of the tree. She found her way up there one night is all :)

AFTER THE SEASON:

There are lots of ways to recycle or otherwise reuse your real tree once the season is over:

  • Replant it in your yard.
  • Have it chipped into mulch. Visit Earth911.org and put in your zip code to find a mulching operation in your area. We usually drop ours at Home Depot.
  • Chop it up and compost it.
  • Leave your tree recycling ideas in the comments.

So what’s your take on the great tree debate? Is your tree real or fake? Did you think about sustainability when you made your decision?

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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8 comments… add one

  • Ivy December 11, 2013, 8:36 pm

    This is very informative for me, because I always thought that an artificial tree would be greener, because I am “saving the trees” by not contributing to the chopping down of new ones. After reading your list, I can see how the artificial tree can be bad for the environment and the economy in the long run. Good stuff! I learned something new!
    Ivy recently posted { Body Love and War | My Journey With PCOS }

    • jennae December 13, 2013, 7:27 pm

      Ivy, when I first started learning how to make life greener, I thought the same. But when I really weigh all the pros and cons, a real tree it is! Plus, we just love the smell :)

  • Shelly December 11, 2013, 10:28 pm

    We live on the water so my husband dump our live tree in the water to make a habitat for when the fish start spawning. Can’t get any greener than that! I am considering checking out Walmart when they start discounting the artificial ones since we would like to put up more than one tree next year. I love the holiday selection at Walmart!
    Shelly recently posted { 8 Hot Drinks To Make In Your Slow Cooker For… }

    • jennae December 13, 2013, 7:29 pm

      Shelly, I’d love to see how the fish take to that :)

  • Skye December 12, 2013, 11:15 am

    I had no idea Wal-Marts sold real trees.
    We have a hand-me-down fake tree that my mother in law used when my husband was growing up. We traded her for the much smaller fake tree that my mother handed down to us when we first moved into our house. Since most of the decorating goes in in our house because it’s where the young child is, it made sense. We do our best to take care of the fake tree so it will last and we can possibly hand it down to our son in a similar fashion.
    I grew up in a house with people who were allergic to the real thing so I never had a real tree growing up, and I think my mother is only on her 2nd fake tree in my lifetime and won’t need another one.
    Skye recently posted { Year in Review: 2013 is over? }

    • jennae December 13, 2013, 7:31 pm

      Skye, they have been for a while. We see them every year, but we usually get ours from Whole Foods because it’s closer to the house. However, upon closer inspection, Walmart had farmed trees of similar size for a much better price.

      And I completely get that some people are just going to use a fake tree, for allergies or whatever reason. But it’s great to hear the same one or two have been in the family for a long time :)

  • James Paulson December 12, 2013, 12:07 pm

    Although my family has been buying fake Xmas trees for years, I’m slowly starting to see the merits in having a fresh one this year! The smell is divine!

    • jennae December 13, 2013, 7:33 pm

      It definitely is, James! That alone makes it worth coming home to the tree every day :)

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