*Featuring special guest author The Sustainable Florist
For those of you who celebrate Christmas, or simply enjoy the decorations, you’ve likely asked yourself: “Is a fresh or artificial tree more eco-friendly?”.
Now I know you may be thinking, Christmas is a few days away, why are we talking about this now?
Well, we wanted to post this closer to Christmas because this year is obviously very different. For a lot of different reasons, and for a lot of people, some eco-friendly habits became much harder to do this year (e.g. can’t bring reusables to restaurants, shift to e-commerce and increased packaging, less likely to opt for public transit, etc.). We also know that sometimes when we learn about something eco-friendly, we may put pressure on ourselves to do it. But the suggestions we make here may not be possible for many this year and/or involve looking for options well in advance of December. So instead, we thought, let’s inform our readers and spread awareness when we are still in the spirit of the Holidays (and something like this is top of mind so you want to read it), but (hopefully) without creating any undue pressure. That way, you can keep it at the back of your mind and take your time to scan your options in your area and make the best decision possible for YOU.
Now, let’s examine the pros and cons of fresh vs. artificial trees and some things to keep in mind:
- Supports local tree farmers
- Brings nature indoors
- Natural tree scent (no need for artificial scents)
- Free of synthetic materials
- Reduced travel emissions
- Promotes tree growth (more oxygen)
- Creates habitats for animals
- Naturally decomposes and can be composted/used for firewood
- Less clutter as no need to store year-round
- Family traditions to cut down a tree together
- Experience in nature is good for the soul
- Some people have allergies
- They have a shorter lifetime than artificial trees
- They require water and care to keep alive through the season
- They can be messy (needles/sap)
- Problematic farming (monoculture)
- Unsustainable harvesting (clear-cutting)
- Some areas do not have municipal tree collection programs/compost programs and people dump them after
- Dry needles with hot lights is a fire hazard
If Using Fresh-Cut Christmas Trees:
- Make sure you are supporting a local farmer. Visit a tree farm if you can! If you can find a farmer who ensures sustainable farming and harvesting that is even better!
- If you are unable to visit a tree farm, ask where the trees are grown and support only locally-grown Christmas trees
- Make sure to responsibly dispose of your tree afterwards - with a municipal tree collection program, municipal compost program, using it for firewood, or donating it to be used for firewood
- One purchase lasts many years
- Many are less expensive than real trees
- No mess from the needles/sap
- Easier to decorate (branches can be moved to exact position), some come pre-lit with lights
- Less of a fire hazard
- Fun colours (other than natural)
- Convenient - can pull it out and put it away whenever, with little work
- They last the entire season
- Less maintenance is needed (do not need to water/care for artificial trees)
- Many contain polyvinyl chloride (PCV), lead, and flame resistant chemicals that are harmful to our health (source1, source2, source3, source4)
- Can look unnatural (many said 'ugly')
- Ends up in the landfill (which releases dioxins and other chemicals) (source)
- Plastic & microplastic waste (you cannot recycle these artificial trees)
- Fossil fuels to manufacture the plastic
- High travel emissions and wasteful packaging (most produced and shipped from China) (source)
- You need to reuse your artificial tree for 10-20 years to offset these environmental impacts (source)
If Using Artificial Christmas Trees:
- Look for ones made without PCV and lead
- Look for ones that have been made in the country, so there are less travel emissions
- Buy one second hand! Many vintage stores carry old christmas trees this time of year. You can save one from going to the landfill!
So the answer isn’t as straightforward as many of us may have hoped. However, we do have some suggestions that we feel may be even better than either of those above if they are available to you.
ALTERNATIVES TO FRESH-CUT & NEW ARTIFICIAL:
- Rent a live tree! Some businesses and garden centres allow customers to rent a potted christmas tree. The tree is dug out of the ground, potted, delivered and set up, and then after the holiday season they are picked up and replanted for your use next year. Some examples of businesses that do this are: Sapling Life (closed down; used to do this in the GTA); Ever Grow Christmas Tree Co (serving Vancouver, B.C); London Christmas Tree Rental (London, UK); The Original Potted Christmas Tree Company (New York, US).
- Buy a potted Christmas tree and try planting it yourself. Make sure not to keep it inside for over 1-2 weeks as this could prevent them from surviving in the cold afterwards (Great tips here: https://www.bhg.com/gardening/trees-shrubs-vines/trees/buying-a-christmas-tree-to-plant/)
- Thrift an artificial tree - while they still carry all the same pros and cons of artificial trees listed above, now you are giving it a new life (and home!) so it isn’t sent to the landfill. I have seen artificial trees at thrift stores more frequently in the summer, so if you are interested in this be sure to keep an eye out when thrifting year round.
- Buy a holiday plant like a Norfolk Pine, Cypress Tree, Rosemary tree, or Lavender tree that lasts year-round! These are easy-to-care houseplants that you can decorate in the winter and still enjoy for the other 3 seasons! (like the ones sold by the Sustainable Florist found here: https://www.thesustainableflorist.ca/shop)
- Decorate your tropical house plants (great ideas here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1977/12/08/decorate-your-houseplants-for-the-holiday-season/31be0775-44cb-42e5-8fb3-3ca980888592/)