The Dirt

Having a real Christmas tree is better

My nephew wanted to cut down the fattest tree possible last year.
Photo/Illustration: Danielle Sherry
My nephew wanted to cut down the fattest tree possible last year.
Photo/Illustration: Danielle Sherry

Okay, so there’s a lot of debate out there whether it’s “greener” to cut-your-own Christmas tree or to buy/use an artificial tree. The answer is simple: If you care about the planet, cut-your-own.
Here’s why:

1. For every tree that’s cut-down for Christmas, three seedlings are planted. This is a conservative estimate too–approximately 40-45 million trees were planted on tree farms in 2008 according to the National Christmas Tree Association

2. 85% of artificial trees are shipped all the way from China. The amount of carbon emissions that are produced to ship those trees to America are astronomical, whereas, going to a local tree farm only burns the amount of fuel it takes to drive a few miles.

3. Lead and PVC (as well as an assortment of other chemicals, heavy metals, and other non-renewable resources) are used to make artificial trees. Real trees are made of natural plant tissues.

4. Real trees biodegrade, artificial ones do not. Eventually, all trees end up being thrown away. Real trees breakdown over time (or are recycled into mulch), but artificial trees which are plastic, sit in landfills indefinitely.

And finally, you don’t get that wonderful new-pine aroma from a plastic tree.


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  1. valleygardener 12/17/2009

    I care about the planet but this gardener is allergic to evergreen. I haven't had a live Christmas tree since my teens and I miss the wonderful scent besides the natural elegance of a real tree. Some people do not have a choice about the artificial tree choice.

  2. User avater
    Dsherry 12/17/2009

    How terrible to be a gardener and be allergic to evergreens! Are you just allergic to conifers--or broad leaf evergreens too? I had friend who was allergic to firs (and everything in that genus) so she always had a holly as her "Christmas tree". And I've known others who have stuck to the Ilex genus as well because they are sensitive to pines (how beautiful would a winterberry or inkberry be as a fresh option for a tree?).

  3. Deziner 12/17/2009

    Another perspective on the Christmas tree debate from an urban Northern Californian.
    The christmas tree that we use is going to have it's 50th birthday party this holiday. It was made in the United States and has been recycled since the the early 60's. How's that for being sustainable ?

    The christmas tree farm that I lived next to about 20 years ago rarely replanted its stock because it cost too much in resources (water) and chemicals to maintain.

    Most of the christmas trees that are found in the lots across California have been trucked down from Oregon and Seattle. So much for that carbon foot print saved.

    Plastic is a recycled resource in my neck of the woods. Plastics are reincarnated into engineered lumber, shoes, long lasting shopping bags and more.

    For those who can't afford a live tree , which is about $ 40 per for a 6 foot tree , you can find a lot of great recycled and 2nd hand christmas trees at your local salvation army and on Craigslist for around 20 to 30 dollar.
    Not everyone has the luxury to drive out to the country, cut their own christmas tree and then pay for it to be hauled away.

  4. User avater
    Dsherry 12/18/2009

    That's so awesome that you've had the same tree since the 60's, Denizer! I wish everyone who owned an artificial tree treated it as a family heirloom. Unfortunately, lots of people don't hang onto these trees indefinitely and millions end up in landfills across the country. If the trees are older, they tend to contain lead and/or heavy metals which mean they cannot be recycled as many other plastic products can.
    I definitely don't advocate going to a tree lot and buying a pre-cut tree that been trucked there from another state--but most states (including California) have a Christmas Tree Growers Association that you can call (or go to their website) to find local farms. These farms MUST replant their stock every year, or they will go out of business.
    I love the idea of going onto Craigslist to find a "pre-loved" tree. I hope you plan on passing your tree onto your kids/family--it sounds like it has got some serious holiday history!

  5. valleygardener 12/18/2009

    To DanielleGardenGirl, Regarding allergies, any holiday evergreen is a problem for me and I pulled out junipers in my garden because I get a rash. I sit far from the tree when I visit homes this time of year. However I have poinsettias in different colors/styles in my home, cyclamen by the front door and I just got some new Christmas cactuses for my backyard patio. I can keep that out there all year in CA and it blooms nicely without too much effort on my part. So I can get in the spirit, I just will enjoy real trees from afar.

  6. kylefletcherbaker 01/14/2010

    Born and raised in New England, I lost my interest for the Christmas Holiday very early on...being close to impoverished at times kinda had a hand in it..non-religious beliefs added to it...

    But the biggest impact was around the age of 10-11, being in the car with my parents and seeing a lot filled with cut trees.

    I was young and naive and didn't know about 'Tree Farms", I honestly thought all these poor trees were cut from the woods.

    And I felt sad...honestly heartbroken...that someone would go into the woods and kill these beautiful creatures....

    Over the years I've cut down the ugly scrawny trees(thinning the woods is a good thing) and even had a artificial tree(what was the carbon footprint for that Chinese thing?)

    Now I will not take the life of a tree for 'Decoration" and I'll not buy artificial trees due to the hypocrisy of it all, Christmas is not overly celebrated in China...yet they make almost all of the artificial trees for us? Hello?

    The last tree I had was a 4' blue spruce...alive and planted...which became the memorial for an 18 year old cat who passed.

    The truth is...I'd like to see a good fairly accurate account of how many trees that are cut...never get purchased and are composted....or more likely...thrown in a landfill

    No, I'll celebrate The Winter solstice, the true New Year and stand out in the woods, marveling at Trees..evergreen and deciduous..Picea, Abies, Tsuga and Pinus

    And as I hear the wind rustling the dried leaves of the Fagus...I smile and that is Holiday Cheer

  7. darylsavage 12/05/2012

    I work at a nursery which sell trees, and the stock is about 80% Frazer firs. I got one of these last year, and was very disappointed to find out it had no smell. It has gotten to be the most popular cut tree because it drops the least needles. I have noticed that the past few years people are buying their trees earlier and earlier with many buying at Thanksgiving weekend. I assume this is what makes the Frazer the most popular. I will probably buy the old-fashioned balsam this year with a bad side that needs to be against the wall because I see no point in buying a real tree unless it smells of evergreen. Last year my boss overbought trees which then needed to be composted which is a shame.

  8. User avater
    MurielGNunnally 10/02/2018

    really it a great information share with us

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