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How Sustainable or Eco-Friendly Is Your Christmas Tree?

Whether you go for a real or a fake tree, there are some surprising environmental impacts of ole' Tannenbaum.

Written by
Laura Wittig

If you celebrate Christmas, odds are you get a tree.

There's something magical about bringing it home, decorating it, and letting it light up your living room for a month.

Whether you're on team real or fake, one thing is for sure: you love your tree.

#treeenvy is a real thing – have you seen those majestic Firs that the Queen of England puts up in her place?!

If you care about our planet, you might have asked yourself – what's better for the environment, getting a real or a fake tree?

On the one hand, it seems like we shouldn't be cutting down trees to throw them away... but on the other, is it any better to have a giant explosion of plastic "tree" in your house?

You might think that reusing something year after year is the clear winner here, but... it's complicated.

Like most things related to environmental impact, the answer isn't quite as clear-cut as you'd think.

If you put up a plastic tree, you need to use it for at least 10 years.

According to the American Christmas Tree Association, it takes at least 10 years of use before a fake tree becomes better for the environment than a real one, in terms of overall carbon emissions. Another study estimated this timeframe as closer to 20 years. Better rethink that pink tree you've been eyeing.

Most artificial trees contain PVC, which produces carcinogens during manufacturing and disposal, and many are made under questionable working conditions.

On average, after 6 years of use, fake trees are sent to the landfill because most community recycling programs can't take them in.

If you think you're "out of the woods" by purchasing a real tree... well, there's still things to consider.

Depending on how far you drive, the average amount of time you spend in the car going to pick up your tree every year adds up. And if you burn your tree, you're contributing to overall air pollution. Also, make sure you're sourcing your tree from a responsible grower – don't unwillingly contribute to deforestation or improper use of resources!

All things considered, there are major benefits to buying a real tree.

If you can swing it (and aren't allergic), you'll be contributing to local jobs, creating shade and shelter for animals who set up home in forests, and creating more oxygen to be released into the atmosphere.

No matter what your choice, there are ways to make sure you're enjoying your holiday responsibly.

If you've already got an artificial tree (or need to have one because of allergies), that's fine – make sure you use it for years to come. If you're out shopping for one, find a tree that's manufactured ethically, and find one that will truly be "evergreen" in terms of style. Make sure you look out for helpful labels when shopping.

If you go for the real deal, stay local to cut down on carbon emissions and don't forget to compost your tree in January.

Head out to a local tree-cutting farm with friends, support local businesses, and make a day of it!