Posted by: UrbanGreenGirl | December 16, 2008

Christmas trees- Are real or fake better for the environment?

Real Christmas tree better than artificial

Real Christmas trees are better than artificial

Since becoming the self-proclaimed Urban Green Girl, a lot of people have asked me which kind of Christmas tree is better; real or artificial?  Funny enough, the general consensus on the street was artificial because it is kept it longer.

My colleague at work, Pam, sent me an article from Cyberpresse that answered this question thanks to a 70 page study conducted by Ellipos, a consulting firm specialised in sustainable development.  And guess what, real is better. That’s what I thought all along though because it’s natural and biodegradable.


Ellipos took many things into consideration to reach these conclusions such as the extraction of petrol to make the Christmas tree needles and operating the factories in China, to soil erosion on tree farms and transport from the stores to the homes.

Four types of environmental impacts were evaluated to come to the conclusion;   Human health (respiratory problems and thinning of the ozone layer), effects on the eco-systems, climate changes and resource extraction.

Real trees were better in two of these categories (ecosystems and resource extraction) whereas fake trees were better for human health (this surprised me) and less damaging on the eco-systems where trees are cultivated.

None the less, with all the pros and cons weighed up, real trees were still better. From the tree farms to the consumers, real trees generate 3.1kg of CO2 whereas artificial ones generate 8kg of CO2. In order for an artificial tree to be competitive on the market, it would have to last 20 years, yet the average person throws them out after 6, as they too lose their needles. And of course, artificial trees don’t biodegrade in landfills nor are they composted by municipalities like real ones.

Interestingly enough though, buying an artificial tree within 5km of your house would produce less GHG (greenhouse gas emissions) than actually driving a few dozen kilometers to the forest/tree farm and cutting it down yourself. Thus, better for us urbanites to buy one close to home. Better for one truck to transport 100 trees into the city, then for 100 people to drive out to a farm and cut one down.

I have to ask, however, would artificial be better for countries who import trees? Seeing as both the real and artificial ones would both be transported in from far distances, is it now better to purchase an artificial one that would only be transported in once, instead of yearly as in the case of real ones?


  • Sales for real Christmas trees have fallen 60% since 2002, mostly due to increased competition from artificial trees.*
  • Sales of artificial trees imported to Canada (predominately from China) have increased by 20% from 2006-2007.*
  • 1.3 million trees cut in Quebec, of which 70% is exported outside of Canada.*


House plant/xmas tree

House plant/xmas tree

My German friend Lars got a real kick out of my pathetic house plant that kept losing her leaves. Frustrated, I dressed her up with Christmas ornaments. He asserts that this is the best “green” solution as nothing goes to waste in January. So here it is, another solution to buying either a real or artificial tree, dress up a house plant!

So what about you, which kind of tree do you prefer?

*Statistics Canada, 2007-2008


  1. I always thought an artificial tree was best. I hated the thought of all those trees being cut down every year to spend a few weeks sitting in water, slowly dying and then being discarded….BUT this year after doing research I totally agree that real trees are better, however I try not to buy real trees that are imported from the other side of the country. I live in Calgary and there are tree lots here selling trees shipped here from Nova Scotia….I just refused to buy one. So I bought a west coast tree and it smells wonderful 🙂

    Next year we are thinking of buying a live tree…ie a tree that lives in a pot and can be used several years in a row and once too big for your house you can plant it in your back yard or in a forest or something. We are considering that option for next year…we’ll see how it goes 🙂

    • You’re absolutely right Cindy! We should always try to buy the most local tree we can. Not one that was shipped across the country because that defeats the point!

  2. I love the house plant with decorations:D One Christmas, my mom trimmed the juniper outside then pieced it together to make a Christmas tree. Actually worked out alright! Dad and I had a conversation about trees the other day. I so wanted to get a living tree that we could plant after Christmas. He was all about it. Mom was against saying that the last one died. Then Dad asked what would my vision be of the best scenario regarding this. I told him, Id be living in an eco-community of like-minded, like-energy people who have living trees all around them which they dress up with ornaments they have made out of biodegradable items. Well, they dress up trees like that in Britain, why not? In Ecuador, my family there do dress up the living plants in and outside their homes.

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