The real tree versus fake Christmas tree debate is one of the most hotly-contested aspects of the Christmas season. Nothing beats breaking out the cozy sweaters, scarves, and boots upon the first winter chill and heading out to the local Christmas Tree farm to jump-start the season. Once the apple cider high wears off; however, the question of whether to get a real tree or a fake one begins. 

There is the smell, look, and feel of the real tree. If you are extra resourceful, you have the option of cutting down the tree and hauling it in from the forest for an added sense of satisfaction. Or digging it up if you forget the saw like Clark Griswold. But then there is the ease of a fake tree. You pop it out of a box, there is minimal mess (no vacuuming up needles all season!) it’s symmetrical, and the pre-lit options equate to evenly-placed lighting in an instant. 

Beyond the debate that largely boils down to one’s personal preference between convenience or authenticity—let’s not get psychoanalytical about this—there is another practical consideration that may tip the scales in this great, Christmas tree debate: which one is better for the environment?

From this perspective, real trees are the real winner. Here’s a little ammo for Team Real Tree. 

Air: As many of us were taught in elementary school, carbon dioxide (CO2) is tree food. As they grow, they suck CO2 from the atmosphere and emit oxygen. In more technical circles, this is why trees are referred to as “carbon sinks” and they play an important and natural role in balancing atmospheric emissions. Being grown at a local farm or even within the United States also means there is a much smaller transportation footprint when compared to fake trees primarily shipped from China which controls over 90% of the fake tree market. Additionally, those fake tree factories in China have little regard for pollution control standards or environmental impact.  

Water, Soil, and Wildlife: Real trees also contribute to healthy soil and thriving habitats. According to one of the national organizations, Christmas trees are often grown in soil that doesn’t support other crops creating scenic green belts that provide refuge for local wildlife. At the end of their life, Christmas trees can be recycled into firewood, mulch, compost or fertilizer, and even soil erosion barriers. According to the farmers that bring us our holiday firs, for every Christmas tree harvested one to three seedlings are planted the following spring. The end of life for fake trees is sitting in a landfill for 500-plus years which undermines the marketed “benefits” of fake tree reuse.

As a bonus round, there are non-environmental factors to consider as well. Trees grown in the U.S. support American jobs and local communities. Purchasing a tree with loved ones at a farm, a roadside sale, or hardware store, brings about that special-themed excited creating memories that make the season so sweet.  

So this Christmas, the choice is clear, go out and support the American tree farmer and the environment by buying a real tree.