O Christmas Tree… Which One Is Greener?

Boy behind Christmas tree.

Decorating the Christmas tree is my favourite part of the holidays. I get all giddy each time I open the boxes filled with hand-me-down wooden ornaments, Christmas balls commemorating our firsts, my bird collection my partner has been buying (and making) for me over the years, and vintage ornaments I have curated… oh and the little ones my kiddos have made.

My (once) itty bitty daughter and one of our past Christmas trees.

I have always lovingly placed them, just so, on a real tree, pricking myself 100s of times to make sure they’re in the perfect spot, dangling freely, clearly visible from all angles. The decision to get a real tree in our family is a no-brainer, but, I get a lot of friends asking me, “Hey Jess, what’s more ‘green’, a real or fake tree?”. I wanted to tackle this.

Real trees are better for the environment, and if you want to own a fake one, you need to keep good care of it and make sure it lasts at least 8 years, but up to 20 is better.


Real or fake? When I was prepping for this post, I was doing some online research and it was really cool to see how often this question must have been asked because as I typed in my search engine, these words auto-populated: “real or fake Christmas tree environment”. It was clearly top of mind for folks. I love that! Further, I was surprised how many credible sources had done the research on this and summarized research papers to help you decide. I know you’re pining for the answer, so let me spruce up the bottomline. See what I did there? 😉

The answer isn’t as clear cut as I thought, but it basically comes down to this: real trees are better for the environment, and if you want to own a fake one, you need to keep good care of it and make sure it lasts at least 8 years, but up to 20 is better.

The sad part though is that real Christmas tree purchases are declining. Aging baby boomers are driving much of this shift, as they opt for the convenience of plastic trees that can be reused year after year.

“The trends are very favorable to real trees today,” O’Connor said. “Many families want to have authentic experiences, do good things for the environment and know the story behind the products they buy. Real trees match up completely with that; a fake tree made from PVC plastic in a Chinese factory does not.”

Tim O’Connor, executive director of the Christmas tree group

The CBC did a nice, short, easy read to understand it. But here are some of their big takeaways, and the notes I have noticed everyone is resonating with:

  • If you get a real tree, buy one that is locally grown and don’t drive far to get it. No point in putting all those carbon emissions in the air. No, your young tree will not have absorbed all that nasty air pollutant in her short life.
  • If you get an artificial tree, make it last. Always buy good quality. Make sure it doesn’t off-gas in your home. Opt for a used one. Most importantly, take great care of it so it last decades.
  • When you’re done with your tree, dispose of it responsibly. Artificial trees should be donated. If you have a real tree, like us, do what we do: donate to the Children’s Foundation Trees for Tots programs. Their volunteers pick up your tree (for a minimum $10 donation) which will be chipped and returned to nature through local naturalization projects at Ignatius Jesuit Centre.

I know the choice for us is real. Too many pros: the experience, the smell, the struggle (and the laughs), the mulch for a local community garden, the funds that help kids. But mostly, I can’t see keeping that good care of an artificial tree, not to mention, the cons of toxic leaching isn’t something I feel like learning about the hard way decades down the road. Allergies and living situations obviously dictate decisions, but to me it’s all kinds of “rockin’ around the real Christmas tree”.

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