The Great Christmas Debate: Live vs. Artificial Trees

Every family has their own holiday traditions and this time of year brings up a great holiday debate all about the Christmas tree.

When I was younger, I can remember having live trees, which were potted in our living room. After Christmas, my dad would dig an enormous hole in our backyard to replant the trees. When he got tired of going through all that work, we started to buy cut trees, but after shedding pine needles and short life spans, we finally opted for an artificial tree. So for the past ten years or so, my family and I have been putting up the fake in early December, and we end up leaving it up until way after Christmas. Despite our tacky Christmas ornaments, to me, our tree looks really authentic and people always ask if it is real or not, which I guess is a compliment.

So while we have decided on our artificial tree for now, family, friends, and neighbors all seem to have their own opinions and traditions on which tree to choose. So which one really is “better” to put up?

What Christmas tree consumers need to consider: Cost, Convenience, and Environmental Impact.

Cost: Annual purchase of cut trees range from $30-$80 depending on size, type, and area where you live (this takes into account how far away the trees are sourced). Artificial trees are hopefully a one-time cost of between $30-$500. The better quality of the artificial tree, the more likely it will last which is crucial for the cost debate.

Convenience. Not every family has access to real trees. Even though seasonal tree stands seem to pop up on every corner, many areas still do not have this convenience and are forced to drive hours to get one. While this may be considered a form of a traditional family outing, there are other spent resources here that are often not considered. Also, going earlier in the season ensures a better looking tree, but having that tree inside for a longer period of time means that it will not last as long. As far as artificial trees, besides spending hours trying to figure out how to attach the branches to the trunk, you can put up and take down the tree whenever you have time.

Environmental Impact. Today’s artificial trees are most likely produced overseas and are made out of non-biodegradable substances so when thrown away, they will sit in landfills and will not decompose. Live trees can be “recycled” or made into mulch. They also will be able to decompose. A single farmed tree can absorb more than 1 ton of CO2 throughout its lifetime. It can also provide oxygen to the ecosystem. While it will eventually get cut down, tree farmers plant seedlings the following spring to regrow the crop. Because this industry is somewhat agricultural, these trees may be subject to pesticides and fertilizers, so looking into organically raised trees is also important.

Still don’t know which to pick? Well, a 2009 study concluded that a 7-foot cut tree’s impact on climate is 60 percent less than a 7-foot artificial tree used for six years. So while cut trees are not carbon-neutral, in terms of carbon-use, they are better than artificial trees. But this really comes down to how long you plan to use your artificial tree and in this case, the magic number is 6 years.

It’s hard to declare either tree a winner-it really is all about preference and where your holiday traditions and allegiances lie. And once you and your family finally decide which one to choose this year, the next question you’ll need to think about is the Christmas tree topper, angel or star?

Read more about the Lifecycle of the Christmas Tree.

Tree image via Shutterstock.

by Allison Winter

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