Real tree or artificial: which Christmas tree is more eco-friendly?

Those looking to get their house dressed in holiday style, your choices in festive decor can have an impact on the environment - but we each have the choice to decide if that impact is negative or positive. 

When it comes to the centerpiece of your living room, the Christmas tree, which is better for the planet: a real tree or an artificial one from the store?

Chris Neggers, the director of forest conservation for the Nature Conservancy of Indiana, says when it comes to sustainability, a real tree always comes out on top. 

Although some may think that an artificial Christmas tree would be better since you reuse it year after year, the costs far outweigh the benefits. According to the Nature Conservancy, around 10 million artificial Christmas trees are bought each year by Americans. More than 80% of those trees are shipped from China, creating more carbon emissions as they travel to us across the world.

Still, the trip is only half the battle - what happens to those artificial trees after they are done being used is a large part of what makes them so harmful to our environment.

"Artificial trees are made out of petroleum, they are composed of plastic," Neggers commented. "That takes a very long time to decompose. Often when an artificial tree reaches the end of its life, it ends up in a landfill and it’ll remain there for decades and centuries before it can break down.”

Not only is avoiding fake trees an eco-friendly choice, but opting for a real tree has benefits of its own that extend beyond making your home smell good.

Tree farmers will typically plant 1 to 3 trees for each Christmas tree bought, keeping the forest growing and thriving. "Managed forests can sequester just as much carbon as natural forests," Neggers stated. "So feel no guilt about buying a real Christmas tree, you’re helping to ensure there’s going to be more.”

If you do choose to bring in a real Christmas tree or any other type of holiday plant to spruce up your home this year, make sure at the end of the season to dispose of it in a sustainable way such as composting. 

If you prefer to leave the Christmas trees outdoors but still want to enjoy the sights and smells this holiday season, you can visit the Nature Conservancy's website to find natural areas and forests near you.

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