Real or Faux Fir: Which Is the More Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree?

Last Update: September 29, 2022

Answer this quickly without thinking about it: Which is more eco-friendly, a real or fake Christmas tree? I said fake, and so did just about every other person I asked in a casual survey around the office. Turns out we were wrong.

Automatically, when we picture Douglas firs getting chopped down for our holiday enjoyment, we think of deforestation and are overcome with a sense of guilt. Artificial trees, built to be reused for years and years, logically seem like the more eco-friendly option.

But it’s not the case. Interesting tidbit: The first ever faux Christmas tree was created by a toilet brush company in the 1930s. That doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture of green. Nowadays, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, nearly 80 percent of fake trees sold in the U.S. are shipped from China. Not only that, but they’re typically made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic derived from petroleum. And while the hope is that people enjoy their artificial trees for at least a decade or more, eventually, when they get disposed of for a newer model, they end up in landfills where they never biodegrade.

And those real trees that get chopped down and dragged into our living rooms? They’re not typically robbed from natural environments, where deforestation can devastate entire ecosystems. They’re grown on farms where they absorb carbon dioxide emissions, soak up runoff from soil before it can reach waterways, and also provide a habitat for wildlife who manage to find their way to these green goldmines.

Most trees are left to mature for an average of seven years, and every season, only about 10 percent of them are cut down. For every tree cut down for the holidays, at least one to three seedlings are planted in the spring to renew the cycle. And technically, a higher demand for real trees boosts farmers’ incentives to plant more. At any given time, there are about 350 million Christmas trees growing in the US—each of these can absorb over one ton of carbon dioxide over the course of its lifetime.

Of course, real Christmas trees aren’t completely without an ecological footprint. Most firs are doused with pesticides, so seeking out organically farmed trees is the best option.

Some people prefer fake trees’ convenience, so if you’re thinking of investing in one or already have one in the attic, don’t fret. Just plan to hold on to it for generations to come; and when it’s time for an upgrade, don’t curb the old model. Instead, spread more holiday cheer by taking the extra step to haul it to the Goodwill or Salvation Army to donate.

We don’t know about you, but we’re pretty excited about all the reasons to opt for a real tree this Christmas. Nothing compares to the aroma of authentic pine when you walk through the door (even all the needles that end up on the floor are worth it).

Bonus tip: Skip the synthetic pine scents if you have an artificial tree. Instead, dilute some pine or fir essential oil with a little bit of vodka (to absorb the oil), and add water to fill a spray bottle. Spritz all over that faux fir, and it’ll smell almost as good as the real thing.

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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Dana Poblete

Dana's love for all creatures under the sun (bugs, too) drives her in her advocacy for ethical eating, environmental sustainability, and cruelty-free living. A natural born islander, she surfs when she can, and writes, always.

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