Which Are Better for the Environment—Real or Fake Christmas Trees? ~ Heather Grimes

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I bought a fake Christmas tree last year because I thought that cutting down real trees was bad for the environment.

Not so.

According to Gary Chastagner, Professor of Plant Pathology at Washington State University, “Most Christmas trees are grown as crop and replanted, so it is really no different than harvesting corn. There is natural reseeding of trees in forests and permits are given out to cut down Christmas trees in areas that need to be thinned.”

The National Christmas Tree Association also stresses how the use of real Christmas trees is actually better for the environment than fake trees. According to research, most fake trees are only used six to nine years before they’re disposed. Even if you would use one for 20 years or more, it will eventually be thrown away and end up in a landfill, unlike real trees, which are biodegradable and recyclable.

As I read more about fake trees, I came upon news that is even more startling. As noted in the Washington Post, fake trees are made “on the concrete floors of Zhang’s Shuitou Company factory, migrant workers, most earning about $100 a month, squat in front of hissing machinery as they melt chips into moldable plastic.” Most fake trees (85%) in the U.S. are imported from China according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

Also—it just gets worse—most artificial Christmas trees are made of metals and plastics. The plastic material, typically PVC, can be a potential source of hazardous lead.

Oh dear.


Ok, now that we’ve established that buying a fake tree a bad idea, there are a few more details that prove buying a real Christmas tree actually benefits the environment!

  • While they’re growing, real Christmas trees support life by absorbing carbon dioxide and other gases and emitting fresh oxygen. The farms that grow Christmas trees stabilize soil, protect water supplies and provide refuge for wildlife while creating scenic green belts. See what the experts say about Real Christmas Trees.
  • Real Christmas trees are renewable. They are grown on farms just like any other agricultural crop. To ensure a constant supply, Christmas tree growers plant one to three new seedlings for every tree they harvest. On the other hand, artificial trees are a petroleum-based product manufactured primarily in Chinese factories. The average family uses an artificial tree for only six to nine years before throwing it away, where it will remain in a landfill for centuries after disposal.
  • Real Christmas trees are recyclable and biodegradable, which means they can be easily reused or recycled for mulch and other purposes. Learn about the many ways that real Christmas trees are being recycled and reused in communities nationwide.
  • Real Christmas trees help preserve green spaces. Real Christmas trees are often grown on soil that does not support other crops. Learn more about the National Christmas Tree Association’s support of Project Evergreen.

In summary, my logic—in its earnest attempt at being green with a fake tree— was totally flawed.

The question now is what to do with my already-decorated and bedazzled fake Christmas tree…?


The National Christmas Tree Association

Washington State University, Research News and Features:  Environment

USA Today

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas, by Anna Getty

Washington Post


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

(For photo credit and for more photos of unusual, resourceful and hilarious Christmas Trees, click here.)


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About Heather Grimes

Heather is a full-time mama to her five-year-old daughter, Opal. She's also a part-time massage therapist to a variety of lovely folks, with a focus on old ladies. In the gaps, she writes, sews, reads, roller skates, falls, writes more, walks and relaxes with her awesome friends and husband. She also loves to tell stories on stage. You can find her at hcgrimes.org. You can also check out her—now, inactive—blog at: thegrimesfamilychronicles.blogspot.com.


8 Responses to “Which Are Better for the Environment—Real or Fake Christmas Trees? ~ Heather Grimes”

  1. Joel D says:

    Sounds like the classic hawk vs dove debate. One opposes war based on the probability of winning and the other opposes it based on cost. Neither is actually opposed to war. The question of the ethics of fighting is never considered. Celebrate solstice? Happy Holidays 😉

    • heather grimes says:

      Thanks for the intriguing comment, Joel. I appreciate you reading!

      • Joel D says:

        My spouse, 3 kids and myself celebrated Christmas for years. Part of our tradition involved traveling to a “Christmas tree” farm and cutting a tree down and drinking hot apple cider and going for a hayride. We no longer celebrate Christmas as our kids (and us parents) seemed to inevitably get caught up in the material aspect of the holidays. We thought we were doing the right thing by harvesting a tree from a farm who replanted more trees annually. But then we stocked the tree with artificial presents and the like. We began to think about the energy it took to complete the experience of the holidays and ultimately couldn’t justify the means. We now have shifted our focus to the winter solstice and placed the focus on quality time together and the essence of the darkness and calm of that event. Rest and reflection are what the magnetism of this time of year pulls us toward. I certainly believe that no matter what our religious affiliation, we can all agree that the concept of consuming should take a back seat to ethical and sustainable celebrations of our humanity and rich traditions. Infinite blessings and gratitude!

  2. Joey says:

    What is your view on the pesticides and fertilizers used on the crops?

  3. Linda V. Lewis says:

    I don't have an answer re: what to do with your fake tree, Heather, but these days I decorate a large grapefruit tree (!) I have with mostly home-made ornaments and call it my lineage tree! So I have Samantabhadra, Guru Rinpoche, HH Khyentse R., Trungpa R., Lady Diana riding Drala (a beautiful white horse), Sakyong Mipham R. with family etc. atop the tree, and toward the bottom have things like a tiny elephant, a brass flower, etc. I don't imagine this will be a wildly popular or an eco-friendly solution to the vast majority of North Americans, but then again people could feel encouraged to make decorations for any living green tree inside or out.
    For householders who have spruce or pine or evergreen trees of any kind outside, decorating with strings of cranberries and popcorn further lets a variety of birds and squirrels animate the tree! The birds esp. appreciate this in the winter! Waylon and I used to do that when we lived on Mapleton. The spruce tree was so tall, we could never get the popcorn and cranberries more than 1/2 way up. Still the birds came. The tree actually became an apt. house for birds, so many nested inside the thick branches, chickadees toward the top, bluejays toward the bottom.

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