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Choosing a Green Christmas Tree

Written by Emily McClements of Live Renewed.

It”s an age-old debate: Real vs. Artificial Christmas Tree?  Most people stand firmly on one side of this debate or the other. Those who grew up with a live Christmas tree in their home cannot imagine having a fake plastic tree, and those who are used to artificial trees don”t want to deal with the mess and clean-up that an live Christmas tree creates.

But, no matter where your loyalties lie, it”s important to look at the pros and cons of each type of tree to decide which is the healthiest option for your family, and the best for the Earth. 

Artificial Christmas Trees


  • You can purchase them one time and use them year after year.
  • Artificial Christmas trees keep live trees from being cut down and disposed of within a few weeks.


  • Artificial trees are made mostly of PVC which is a petroleum product, a nonrenewable resource.  The production of this type of plastic releases one of the most toxic chemicals, dioxin, into the environment.
  • Although artificial trees could used over and over again, for twenty years or more, statistics show that most trees are discarded after anywhere from six-nine years of use, and they end up in the trash where they are filling up our landfills.
  • Some artificial trees can contain levels of lead that are unsafe for children to be around. Lead is used as a stabilizer for PVC, and over years of use, artificial trees can release lead dust which can land on the branches, on the floor, or on presents below the tree, posing a hazard to your family.
  • Artificial trees require resources both for production and for shipping them, and over 90 percent of artificial trees are made in China.

Photo by sdminor81

Real Christmas Trees


  • Live trees benefit the environment, by producing oxygen and reducing carbon dioxide, while they are growing, and are a renewable resource.
  • You can purchase a real tree from a local Christmas tree farm that uses sustainable farming practices, meaning that for each tree cut down, one to three new seedlings will be planted.
  • Real Christmas trees can be recycled after you are finished with them, around 90% of real Christmas trees are turned into mulch each year.


  • Fir trees are susceptible to pests and diseases requiring the use of chemicals and pesticides.
  • If you live in a city or a warm climate where fir trees cannot be locally grown, your real tree may have to be shipped from a distance to get to you.

Photo by Emily at Live Renewed

Consider a Different Option

Another great choice for a green Christmas Tree is to get a live potted tree. Last year my parents had a potted Christmas tree, and while it was smaller than a standard Christmas tree, it requires some special care, and you can”t have it in the house from Thanksgiving until after the New Year, I still think that it can be a great option for some families.

Live Christmas Tree


  • You are preserving a live tree that can be reused or replanted after the holiday season
  • A small potted tree can be reused for several years without having to be replanted.
  • Some companies replant trees for customers around schools and churches, in parks, or nature preserves


  • You may not have the space to replant a live Christmas tree each year.
  • May be smaller size than you are used to for a Christmas Tree.

Making Your Choice

I am a real tree girl, myself.  I cherish the memories of going to a local farm and cutting down a tree with my family when I was growing up, and I want to pass that same tradition on to my children.

If you choose to cut down a real tree, take some time to do your research before you head out to the tree farm to ask about their farming practices.  Just like with buying food locally, you may be able to find a tree farm that uses fewer pesticides, or more organic farming practices, and choose to give that farm your business.

If you already have an artificial tree you may have a tough decision to make.  Do you throw away your tree where it will sit in a landfill?  Do you keep using it because you already have it, even though you may be exposing your family to the toxic effects of lead? One option could be to donate your tree to a nursing home, or somewhere like that where it is just used for display and the effects of lead dust would be not be as big of an issue as in your home.

If you have the space available to replant a tree, or you like the idea of keeping a potted tree to use for several years, and don”t mind having a smaller size Christmas tree, I”d encourage you to consider buying a live potted Christmas tree this year.  You may just start a new tradition for your family!

What type of Christmas Tree does your family celebrate with?

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  1. samW

    that is one issue I have had sense I was a child & stand just as firm today…I will NOT have a fake tree! EVER! 🙂 of course we are lucky & live on enough land that we just go out in our woods & get a tree & when we’re done with it, we stand it up in the snow & decorate it up for the birds with popcorn, seeds etc. & can look at it till the snow melts, it falls down & hubby burns it for firewood….

  2. Becky

    We have a potted fig tree in our house that I decorate for Christmas. It’s going to be especially nice this year because I have a 15 month old and the tree is high enough that he won’t be able to tear all of the ornaments off of it!

  3. Bernadette

    I used to be a live tree person until I met someone who was allergic. It prompted me to do some reading, and I read some articles online on how cut trees have mold ( ) and decided to go with a fake one. That was 4 years ago and ever since I stopped getting sick every holiday season! I am so grateful to feel so well, instead of the usual getting sick!

  4. sandy

    I love live trees. We really have the perfect situation for getting one “guilt-freer”. For the past two years we’ve lived in the far northern region of BC where the pine is beyond plentiful. It is legal to cut down any tree that grows under power lines, as the utility companies would have to remove them at some point anyway. So we get a wild tree, no pesticides or fertilizers, for free, and then it gets recycled.

  5. Krissa

    I love getting a real tree. I don’t think I could ever do artificial. We do recycle our tree every year, which makes me feel better. I like the idea of a live potted tree too, thanks!

  6. Charis

    we cut down a tree every year on lassen, a mountain close to where we live. the permit is only $10, and it actually helps the environment by clearing small trees to help with possible future forest fires. plus, it has become a fun family tradition with sledding involved when there is snow. we win, our community wins.

  7. Alison

    For the past few years we’ve been getting a Christmas tree from Friends of the Urban Forest. Its a live urban tree that gets replanted in San Francisco after the season. It’s not a fir type Christmas tree and it can’t hold as many ornaments, but that has just helped me simplify my decorations to things that matter most. The cost is considered a donation to the organization too.

  8. Living the Balanced Life

    I love a live tree, I think my kids would rebel if I got a fake one, even though they are grown and out of the house! Even though we have been making wiser choices about our food the last 6 months, I never even thought about the Christmas tree! Will have to ponder a bit. I am sure we will get one, just may go to a local farm after researching them a bit!

  9. kt

    With two small boys and simplification on my mind… I am using garland to hang my ornaments on over a large window in our living room. I will not have to worry about little hands getting to them, storing a big tree (or buying one), and as a bonus my four year old said the stars on the garland remind him of Jesus! No worries with a tree, little hands, or expense and something that helps my kiddos think of Jesus…. I’ll take it!

  10. Kacie

    There’s another alternative! I purchased an artificial tree that is made without lead. It’s made entirely in the USA, and without lead. Yay! Made by Mountain King. It arrived the other day but we haven’t set it up yet since we do that after Thanksgiving.

    About $50ish more than other artificial trees but I think it’s still reasonable.

  11. Kinda Crunchy Kate

    We have a second hand artificial Christmas tree. We didn’t have a tree last year when we moved back from the UK and I was delighted to discover that the previous tenants in our home left a Christmas tree in the attic. Merry Christmas to us!

  12. Stephanie

    We’ve done a real tree since I’ve been an adult, although I grew up with fake trees. I was actually just contemplating the issue last week, wondering if there was any merit in using a fake tree for the reusability aspect. Overall, I think I agree with you that it probably isn’t, although I do wonder if there is anybody out there making more natural trees, or using recycled materials to do so? If so, that might be worth investing in and reusing for a long time.

    But, we’ll most likely stick with real. I’m atrociously bad at remembering to water it and I really dislike vacuuming up the pine needles, but they’re beautiful and they smell heavenly and I’m not sure that I could actually go back to fake after so many years of the real thing. 🙂

  13. Jennifer

    Great pros and cons post! We’ve been skipping the tree, but have so many ornaments that we decorate all the live plants we have in the house instead.

  14. Tamara

    I like the idea of real trees too but unfortunately they trigger and allergic response so it is artificial trees all the way for me. Love your article too

  15. Heather :) :) :)

    This was a really great article, and thanks for listing all the pros and cons for each type of tree. My dad and I are living in my aunt’s house now. We’ll be using her tiny fiberoptic Christmas tree this year. It changes colors. It’s actually kind of neat for an artificial tree.

    I prefer REAL Christmas trees. There was a nice, short stubby one at Whole Foods…but we can’t afford those this year. So we’re sticking with my aunt’s fake tree 🙂

    Oh, I like the idea of planting trees in the backyard after Christmas. We already have 10 trees in our backyard…no room for more.. 🙂 🙂 Still, I think that is a super good idea 🙂 🙂

    Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather 🙂

  16. 'Becca

    Another option is to make your own artificial tree! Here are details about making a tree from plastic bags and scrap cardboard. This will be its 16th Christmas.

    We also have a second small tree now. We got it for free from a neighbor who was moving. It’s the pre-lighted, tinsel type which doesn’t look real at all but is quite sparkly. From what I have read, I think that type is less likely to have lead in the “needles”, but of course most electrical cords (like those connecting the tree lights) contain lead in their plastic sheathing. I try to avoid letting anyone eat right near the tree or without washing their hands after handling it.

    The nice thing about having two trees is that we can surround one with presents to be opened at home, the other with presents to be transported to my parents’ house–we are going by plane (this will be the first time since we started living together that we’ve gone anywhere for Christmas!) so bulky or heavy gifts need to stay home to be opened on New Year’s.

  17. Kara E.

    Currently, we have an artificial tree, but once we live in a house with our own land, I’d like to try the living tree path. I certainly didn’t know that the artificial trees are off gassing PVC and lead (gross!). I think I’m going to check out the trees at the local nursery where they grow them in their orchards. I like how cut trees can be composted or mulched afterward too. Now to work up the courage to deal with a cut tree; I grew up with artificial trees!

  18. clanross

    We just bought another “fake” tree this year. It replaces our old one that we bought over 18 years ago as newlyweds. I don’t know how long artificial trees are designed to last or how much difference it makes, but I think using the same tree for 18 years counts for something. I am interested in a real tree, but for now, we will take good care and see if we can get another 18 or so out of this one.

  19. matt

    I am a firm believer in fake trees. My family and I used to use a real tree and the upkeep on them is a hassle. I like that with a fake tree you get the look of a real tree and you don’t have to mess around with getting rid of it every year when christmas is over. But you can’t pass on the smell of a real tree.

  20. Lisa

    We have always used real trees, but after we are done we put it outside and decorate it for the birds with popcorn strings and bird seed ornaments. When the bird tree is depleted the tree then goes into our brush pile, where birds and small animals use it for shelter for the rest of the winter. Eventually the Christmas tree is seasoned and becomes kindling for our wood burning fireplace. The ashes of which get put in the compost pile. Thus is the life cycle of our Christmas tree.

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