A decorated real christmas tree in a warm toned living room hinting at the most Eco-Friendly Christmas tree.
November 30, 2023
 in 
Lifestyle

What Is the Most Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree After All?

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is the season for tough decisions. Christmas at home or with the in-laws? Michael Bublé or Mariah Carey? And of course, the age-old question of whether to have a real tree or an artificial one.

There are staunch supporters on either side. Some love the smell of a real tree; others hate the mess. Arguments abound about each being more eco-friendly than the other but today we’re going to cut the Christmas carols and decide once and for all what the most eco-friendly Christmas tree is.

In contrast to most family arguments at this time of year, we’ll attempt to be as fair as we can in our judgment. We’ll explore the pros and cons of everything from using a recycled plastic Christmas tree to going real and organic, as well as the best places to buy a sustainable Christmas tree.

Ho, Ho, Ho! Let the competition for the most eco-friendly Christmas Tree begin. Prizes include: A happier planet and guaranteed festive joy. 

Table of  Contents

Artificial Vs. Real Christmas Trees: Which Is Better for The Environment and Why?

To fully answer the question, “What is the most sustainable Christmas tree?”, we first need to weigh up the pros and cons of the most prominent options:

Conventional Artificial Trees

Different kinds of artificial christmas trees on display in store.

Here we’re discussing your typical artificial Christmas Tree – the plastic kind you can order online last minute or pick up at just about any supermarket this time of year. 

Pros:

  • Less faff than a real tree. They don’t shed or have to be kept alive over the holiday season.
  • Better for allergies or homes with cats.
  • No trees are cut down to make them, except that isn’t the whole story …

Cons:

  • Since these trees are usually made from plastic and metals, there’s a significant amount of damaging mining and production processes that go into their creation.
  • Most artificial trees sold in North America come from China and incur about 88lbs of carbon emissions per tree.
  • The often-cheap processes used to make artificial trees mean that the vast majority don’t last well. This is particularly concerning considering that it takes about 10 years of use for an artificial tree to have the same carbon impact as a real tree.
  • Because fake, plastic trees rarely last well, they also add to waste issues and frequently end up in landfills where they will take hundreds of years to decompose.

Real Trees

The more sustainable option,  a real christmas tree twigs up close.

Be it a Spruce or Fir, here are the pros and cons of getting a real tree this year:

Pros:

  • They smell great, and while that might not seem like a sustainability plus, it does mean you get to skip the use of artificial fragrances to make your home smell festive.
  • The trees act as carbon sinks while growing and usually don’t have to be transported as far for sale as artificial trees, keeping overall emissions much lower.
  • Once used, the trees can be composted.
  • Real Christmas trees are completely renewable and grown on a rotating cycle so that for each tree sold, 1-3 new seedlings are planted. 
  • Christmas tree plantations have been proven to be important helpers in improving biodiversity, especially in intensive agricultural areas.
  • Most Christmas tree farms in the US are family-owned and offer significant local employment and economic benefits.

Cons:

  • Depending on the farming tactics, harsh agrochemicals might be used during growing.
  • Depending on the size, they can be difficult to get home.

“What is the most sustainable Christmas Tree?”: The Verdict

Though many worry that cutting down a tree and propping it in their home for Christmas contributes to deforestation, real trees tend to be more eco-friendly than artificial equivalents. The forests themselves do a lot of good and, if you can support local, small growers, there are significantly fewer carbon emissions involved.

As we’ll explore later in this article, however, organic Christmas trees tend to be the even better option and there are ways to ensure that the disposal of your tree is more sustainable too. If the idea of a single-use tree doesn’t sit well with you, many places now also offer tree rental services and the chance to buy a tree that can be planted after use.

5 Sustainable Artificial Christmas Tree Options

Though the sustainability factors of a real tree are compelling, we understand that if you’ve got unruly pets, kids, allergies, or just a small space, artificial might be your only option. If that’s the case, here are a few of our favorite sustainable artificial Christmas Tree picks: 

1. Oncor Recycled Plastic Christmas Tree

A selection of Oncor's Featured Recycled Plastic Christmas Trees.

One of the few brands you can buy a recycled plastic Christmas tree from, Oncor has a wide variety of artificial trees available.

Sustainability Stats:

  • All the trees are lead-free and made from recycled PVC plastic. While PVC still isn’t an ideal substance to use, the fact that it’s recycled helps somewhat.
  • The trees are treated to be rust-free for at least 30 years to help them last.
  • A downside, however, to Oncor is that all the trees ship from China. The best way to make a tree like this truly sustainable is to use and take care of it for at least 10 years.

Where to Buy: Directly from their website or Amazon.

2. It’s a Green Tree

sustainable and artificial christmas tree by It's a Green Tree made with plywood and cotton known as the Craig.

The origins of the wooden trees and decorations that this brand sells started a few years ago on a walk through a New York City neighborhood. Noticing the many trees left out on the streets to be collected after the holidays, the idea to create a reusable and eco-friendly artificial Christmas tree was born.

The final product is aesthetically pleasing, easy to put up, and fully collapsible so storing it isn’t a headache. It’s also heigh-adjustable, making it extra convenient for tight spaces.

Sustainability Stats:

  • The trees are made from plywood and cotton string, with small metal touches. It’s not only a plastic and PVC-free Christmas tree, but largely biodegradable too.
  • Made in Brooklyn so no overseas shipping.
  • Everything comes flat-packed in plastic-free packaging to minimize waste.

Where to Buy: Etsy or direct through their website.

3. Welcome to The Woodshop

Eco friendly artificial christmas tree by welcome to the wood shop made with branch wood..

Another spot for wooden trees, this small Pennsylvania business handmakes a range of eco-friendly artificial Christmas tree options suitable for traditionalists and minimalists alike. They’re simple to assemble and available in many styles and sizes.

Sustainability Stats:

  • Made entirely from wood and fully biodegradable as a result.
  • Everything arrives in a recycled shipping tube or box which can then be reused to store the tree off-season.
  • For US shoppers, no worries about carbon-intensive overseas shipping.

Where to Buy: Etsy or direct through their website.

4. National Tree Company

PVC free artificial christmas tree by the National Tree Company.

If you’re looking for a hyper-realistic PVC-free Christmas tree, the National Tree Company’s 7.5-foot Feel Real Downswept Douglas Fir is regularly listed as one of the best artificial trees out there.

Sustainability Stats:

  • Well-reviewed for durability and comes with a 3-year warranty.
  • Energy-efficient LED lights.
  • Uses Polyethylene rather than PVC which is a slightly less harmful plastic.

5. Buy Secondhand

The most sustainable artificial Christmas tree is probably one that’s already been lightly used. Consider looking at Facebook Marketplace, eBay, or your local thrift stores for options. You’d be surprised how many great Christmas trees are out there just looking for a cozy home to bring joy to this holiday season.

Why Are Organic Christmas Trees Better for The Environment?

The worry with any agricultural product, whether it’s Christmas Trees or soybeans, is that the use of harmful farming chemicals will lead to water and soil pollution. Organic farming practices actively work to reduce the use of pesticides and other chemicals so that ecosystems are better protected.

It’s why, where possible, it’s worth supporting organic Christmas trees. They’re grown with far fewer chemicals and, as we’ll look at in the next section, often involve other sustainable farming practices too.

How To Find Organic and Sustainable Christmas Tree Farms

Every area will have slightly different options, but a quick Google search should help you locate nearby organic Christmas Tree farms or those who sell organic Christmas Tree options. There are also a few online directories worth checking, such as:

5 Magical, Sustainable Christmas Tree Farms Across The US

Here are 5 of our favorite sustainable Christmas tree farms and sellers, and the eco-friendly practices they use:

1. California: Silvertip Tree Farm

Just south of Yosemite National Park, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you'll find the Silvertip Tree farm – a picturesque property that has been family-owned for over a century.

Sustainability Stats:

  • Though still pursuing formal organic certification, this farm claims to be pesticide-free and already has extensive organic practices in place.
  • Certified with the American Tree Farm system which means that it adheres to their criteria of sustainable tree growing.
  • Most trees are planted not to be cut. When you buy an eco-friendly Christmas tree from them, it’s usually the result of thinning that’s been done to keep the forest on the farm healthy.

Where to Buy: From their website or at the farm itself.

2. Maine: Celebration Tree Farm

Not only is Celebration Tree Farm committed to ecological forestry practices, but this Durham property also counts Ginger “the Wonder Dog” as their official greeter. We know that doesn’t necessarily make the Christmas trees better, but it can’t hurt!

Sustainability Stats:

  • Their Balsam Fir Trees are certified organic with no chemical fertilizers or herbicides used.
  • Christmas trees are grown near a community forest (better for biodiversity) which the farm also helps to support.
  • The farm’s wellness center and projects with the community forest offer several ways for people to connect with nature and learn more about it.

Where to Buy: At the farm in Durham or the Portland Food Co-op.

3. New York: Organic Vermont Trees in Brooklyn

Ok, this isn’t a farm that people can visit but city folk deserve great organic Christmas trees too. Montague Trees sells Vermont-grown, sustainable Christmas tree options from Brooklyn.

Sustainability Stats:

  • Organically grown without pesticide or synthetic fertilizer.
  • The business supports multiple charities for the holidays and holds food drives.

Where to Buy: Brooklyn Heights at Saint Ann’s & Holy Trinity or Key Food Montague.

4. Washington: Buttonwood Farm

Situated just outside of Seattle, Buttonwood Farm has several eco-friendly Christmas tree options including Douglas, Grand, Noble, Fraser, Nordman, Turkish, and Blue Spruce. 

Sustainability Stats:

  • All trees are organically grown.
  • The Buttonwood website includes some great tips on how to keep your organic Christmas tree looking as fresh as it can throughout the holidays.

Where to Buy: At the farm itself.

5. Massachusetts: Hopestill Farm

This family-run farm sits near Boston in Sherborn, Massachusetts, and sells cut-your-own white spruce and blue spruce organic Christmas trees.

Sustainability Stats:

  • USDA-certified organic farm since 2010.
  • Extra effort is made to ensure healthy soil with the use of compost, crop rotations, mulches, and cover crops.
  • The farm is a supporter of NOFA (The Northeast Organic Farming Association) which helps educate people on sustainable farming practices and minimizing the use of agrochemicals.

Where to Buy: At the farm – customers also get to cut their own tree.

How to Dispose of Your Real Tree After the Season

As the festive season winds down, there are few chores more tedious than having to take down the Christmas tree. Done with care though, how you dispose of your tree can help ensure that it breathes new life into the world rather than festering in a landfill:

  • Check your local recycling and compost initiatives. Some cities have municipal programs that will collect trees and turn them into mulch and compost to be used in city parks, etc. Many Home Depots also offer Christmas Tree recycling.
  • Chop what you can into a firewood.
  • If you live in a wooded area, you may be able to take the tree there to decompose naturally.

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

We started this article with a simple question, “What is the most sustainable Christmas tree?” and while the answer is that real is usually better than fake, it’s also worth noting that sustainability is subjective. If a real tree is hard to get or just not suitable for your home, then try for an eco-friendly artificial Christmas Tree instead.

The most important things to remember are these: Limit waste where you can. Support local, small businesses when possible, and have a Merry Christmas! Whatever tree you choose, we hope that it’s magical.