Real Vs. Fake Christmas Trees : Which Is More Sustainable And Why?

Christmas is a tradition many people including Christians and non-Christians celebrate. If you asked me what the symbol of Christmas was I would say, as someone who does not celebrate Christmas, Christmas Trees. In my head a typical Christmas tree is an ornamented and brightly lit up conifer.

After doing some research I found that in 2017 people purchased 27.4 million real trees vs 21.1 million fake trees in the United States. With only a difference of nearly 6 million trees, I wanted to see the sustainability of each tree. Furthermore most of the research can be applied to the purchase of other plants for our homes. 

There are a few main points which I will be discussing to compare one to the other

  1. Materials 
  2. Transportation 
  3. Average Longevity 
  4. Disposal

And finally I will provide solutions, alternatives and my personal opinions on all the possible options. 

Real Trees

  1. Materials – The real conifer trees take about 7 to 10 years to grow and are made of seeds, soil and nutrients. Apart from the natural materials there are sometimes additions of pesticides, fertilisers and herbicides throughout the growth of the trees. Pesticides and the others can be harmful as they contain nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which when displaced by the rain run off into lakes and cause overgrowth of plants in the ocean. This overgrowth is known as eutrophication and cause the plants to block sunlight from reaching the marine life eventually killing them.
  2. Transportation – Usually in the States the trees are grown locally and so consumers can drive to a local farm and purchase the tree causing less CO2 emissions than for example importing by plane. 
  3. Average Longevity – The trees last for 4 to 5 weeks after being cut.
  4. Disposal – They’re generally fine to dispose as they’ll decompose or can be used for composting. 

Extra notes from my research 

  • 1 acre of conifer trees clear 13 tons of air pollutants and they provide oxygen for 18 people (not sure at what stage of maturity)
  • Real trees at farms also provide a home for the wildlife 
  • Their growth is also carbon neutral as they emit oxygen and purify the air.

Fake Trees

  1. Materials – Fake trees are made of metal (lead) and pvc (petroleum-derived plastic). These materials make the tree non-recyclable and polluting. The derivation of these materials also cause environmental impacts such as CO2 emission and oil spills. Furthermore the lead can spread lead particles into the air causing it to be harmful to inhale. 
  2. Transportation – Generally most of the fake trees are made in China. And so the planes would be causing some CO2 emissions. In addition, most labor workers in the factories earn about $100 a month so there are fair trade concerns.
  3. Average Longevity – The average consumer keeps the trees for 4 to 10 years. However, the trees must be reused for 20 years for it to equate the amount of energy used to produce one real tree
  4. Disposal – Most trees end up in landfills and never decompose. Otherwise they can also end up being recycled or reused. 


  1. The best alternative is having no tree as there are no environmental impacts.
  2. Potted Christmas trees / renting trees – there are some farms and services which allow people to rent trees and they can be returned. The real plants are usually given in pots so that they can be replanted. 
  3. Purchasing or using another type of tree/plant. 
  4. Purchasing second hand Christmas trees from thrift shops 
  5. Upcycling trees 

My Opinion

Between real and fake trees, I think that the environmental consequences of growing real trees can be double checked through inspecting the farm you’ll be buying the tree from. Furthermore overall I believe that since most people are not good at keeping trees for more than 10 years then it would be better to just invest in real trees every year

Also, while having no tree maybe the best alternative I think for festivities and traditional reasons it would be better to rent a tree during the festive season so that they can be replanted and the harm to the planet is minimised.

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Founder at Econaki
Hi! My name is Saran and I am the Founder of Econaki. My goal with the business is to provide in-depth information about the sustainability of popular products/services so that we can combat climate change amongst other problems.

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