Artificial or real trees: Which is better for the environment?

The Science Behind Growing a Perfect Christmas Tree About 30 million Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. each year. Michigan State University has a team of forest researchers who are experts in Christmas tree production. Their research will likely influence what type of Christmas tree you buy a decade from now. Bert Cregg and his team are focused on two factors: genetics and culture techniques. They perform various cold-hardiness experiments inside of chest freezers in MSU's Plant and Soil Sciences Bui

Some people put up their Christmas tree after Thanksgiving, while others wait until closer to Christmas. Regardless, you have to decide what type of tree you’ll get: real or artificial.

There are good reasons to prefer one over the other: Real tree lovers adore the scent and the bonding time of picking one to take home. For those who prefer artificial trees, the mess-free, reusable aspects are major selling points.

However, each type of tree also has environmental impacts.

According to The Nature Conservancy, real trees don’t require the carbon emissions that it takes to produce and transport artificial ones. Of the 350-500 million trees growing on U.S. tree farms, just 30 million are harvested for Christmas annually. Purchasing the trees keeps local farms in business and keeps the land covered in trees, which supports wildlife habitats.

And when families remove the tinsel and take down their trees, they can be recycled and transformed into mulch, according to Popular Science.

Meanwhile, artificial trees don’t have the ability to be broken down and reused in quite the same way.

Doug Hundley, a spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association, told the publication that the trees are “plastic and metal and they end up in our landfills.”

According to waste management company Recycle Track Systems, even if a real tree is taken to the landfill instead of being turned into mulch, it will still decompose in six months.

“Disposing of a tree by composting produces CO2 and methane,” said Darran Messem, former Managing Director of Certification at the Carbon Trust, in a press release. “An artificial tree has a higher carbon footprint than a natural one because of the energy-intensive production processes involved.”

“By far the best option is a potted tree which, with care, can be replanted after the festive season and re-used year after year. This could even result in negative emissions, thanks to your tree’s carbon-capturing potential.”