Which Type of Christmas Tree Is Most Eco-Friendly? 5 Popular Options, Ranked

"Not sure what type of Christmas tree to buy this year? Don't worry—we ranked the most popular trees from most to least eco-friendly to help you choose!"
which christmas tree type is most eco-friendly and sustainable

It’s that time of year again! If your tree isn’t already picked out, decorated with DIY Christmas ornaments, and lit up in your living room, there’s still time to decide what you want. Whether you prefer real, artificial, or alternative trees, the environmental impacts of each are important to know before making a purchase.

The debate between real and artificial trees has been going on for decades. And this debate has expanded to include more unique options, such as using houseplants or assembling a modern wood tree. Today, there are endless holiday tree possibilities—and the choice is all yours.

If you’re still not sure which type of tree to get this year, we’re here to help you weigh your options. In our latest report, we researched five of the most popular types of Christmas trees to find out which is the most and least eco-friendly.

Our Methodology

The Brightly team compared five types of Christmas trees and ranked them in terms of sustainability.

Christmas Tree Types We Ranked: 

  • Artificial trees
  • Houseplant trees
  • Live trees
  • Modern wood trees
  • Rental trees

Ranking Factors:

  • Materials and Production
  • Longevity and Disposal
  • Overall Environmental Impact
  • Accessibility

Each Christmas tree type was given a rating out of 20 points based on materials and production (including agriculture and/or tree production); longevity and disposal; overall environmental impact (including community and ecosystemic impact); and accessibility (including price and transportation). Each category is scored from 1 to 5, with 1 being the least eco-friendly and 5 being the most eco-friendly. 

Popular Types of Christmas Trees, Ranked

1. Live Trees

Total Score: 17/20

  • Materials and Production: 5/5
  • Longevity and Disposal: 3/5
  • Overall Environmental Impact: 5/5
  • Accessibility: 4/5

Contrary to popular belief, buying a live tree is a much more eco-friendly option than buying an artificial tree. Not only that, but it has an overall more positive impact on the planet than any other option on this list.

Live trees are grown on tree farms—not cut straight from natural forests. It’s estimated that up to 500 million trees are grown on tree farms across the U.S. every year, yet only 30 million are cut down for Christmas. For every tree bought, farmers plant between one and three seedlings to replace them.

The millions of trees still standing after the holidays are beneficial to the planet, supporting air purification and natural habitats for wildlife. Supporting farmers by buying a live tree ensures this land will remain a green space, as these trees wouldn’t be there if not for the Christmas tree market. Without this market, the land would likely be developed.

While the remaining trees benefit the planet, proper tree disposal is crucial in making sure the entire life cycle of these trees is eco-friendly. It’s estimated that millions of live Christmas trees still wind up in landfills after the holidays.

Before putting your tree on the curb, make sure you know the correct steps on how to recycle your tree with your local curbside pickup. This information is listed on many city websites. You also access it by calling your local recycling center. These trees can be turned into compost, mulched and used by city parks, or given a second life in local conservation efforts. Or, you can repurpose the wood to be used in your own backyard.

How about accessibility? For many, picking out the annual tree at a local tree farm is a cherished memory. But even if there isn’t a tree farm near you and the live trees for sale were transported hundreds of miles, those carbon emissions are still nowhere near that of producing and transporting a plastic and metal artificial tree from China. Not to mention the environmental toll that comes with discarding those artificial trees when that time comes.

This year, it may be slightly harder to find an affordable live tree option. According to the American Christmas Tree Association, extreme weather events in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest—including wildfires, heatwaves, and drought—are making it hard for farmers to meet consumers’ needs. Some farmers have reported losing up to 90% of their crops.

Because of this shortage, it’s been reported that the average live tree costs $78 this year. Artificial trees are also more costly due to supply chain issues, raising the price 20-30% for an average of $104. Considering live trees are more eco-friendly and more affordable, despite the shortage, supporting the live tree market is one of the best moves you can make this holiday season.

If you do already have an artificial tree, however, don’t ditch it. The most eco-friendly move is using it for as long as you can before donating it.

2. Houseplant Trees

which christmas tree type is most eco-friendly and sustainable

Total Score: 16/20

  • Materials and Production: 5/5
  • Longevity and Disposal: 5/5
  • Overall Environmental Impact: 3/5
  • Accessibility: 3/5

A Christmas tree isn’t one-size-fits-all. Many people are getting creative with the space they have, including swapping a traditional Christmas tree with a potted houseplant tree.

Unlike traditional Christmas trees you cut down and dispose of, these plants go on to become houseplants you love and care for year-round. While you can give many larger houseplants a festive touch (plant parents are even decorating their cacti with lights!), the most popular Christmas tree houseplant is the Norfolk Pine.

Despite its name, it’s not a pine. The Norfolk Pine is a tropical plant native to the South Pacific with whimsical branches and soft, delicate needles that don’t shed. While they start on the smaller side, this plant can grow as tall as your ceiling with proper care and repotting—up to around seven feet.

Longevity isn’t a problem for houseplant trees either, as their lifespan extends long after the holidays. You may never need to buy a Christmas tree ever again; you can continue to decorate your Norfolk Pine year after year. But while you don’t dispose of a houseplant tree, its overall environmental impact doesn’t extend beyond your home. Therefore, the impacts aren’t nearly as great as that of rental trees or live trees, which provide clean air and homes to wildlife.

If you’re interested in purchasing a Norfolk Pine, they’re fairly affordable and easy to find. Many retailers sell the plant this time of year, with prices ranging from $20 to $70 depending on the size. You can also buy the plant from a local nursery to benefit your community, or buy from a trusted online plant store like Bloomscape or The Sill.

3. Rental Trees

Total Score: 15/20

  • Materials and Production: 5/5
  • Longevity and Disposal: 5/5
  • Overall Environmental Impact: 4/5
  • Accessibility: 1/5

Rental trees are another great eco-friendly option for the holidays. While live trees are cut down then turned into mulch or composted after the holidays, renting a tree allows the tree to return to nature.

Here’s how it works: When you rent a Christmas tree from a company that has a rental option, the potted tree is delivered to your home. You care for the tree over the holidays, watering it as directed by the tree farm. Then after Christmas is over, the nursery picks it back up.

After the tree returns to the tree farm, it’s able to continue to grow for another year at the farm’s forest nursery, where it becomes part of the ecosystem, providing clean air and habitats to wildlife. Each tree can be re-rented for seven years before it’s too big to transfer to homes for the holidays. At that point, it’s planted in the ground within the community or forests, where it continues to better the environment.

While this is a great idea and option, rental tree farms are scarce. Because they aren’t nearly as widespread as traditional tree farms, this tree type loses points in the accessibility category. Right now, the service is primarily on the West coast, with popular companies being The Living Christmas Company and Rent a Living Christmas Tree in California, and The Original Potted Christmas Tree Company in Oregon.

With that being said, rental trees still score high in longevity and overall environmental impact because these trees remain alive and aren’t contributing to landfill waste after the holidays. Every year, more trees get a permanent home in the ground, where they provide clean air and homes to wildlife.

Even though this option isn’t widespread, a tree farm near you may have a rental service that’s not as heavily promoted online. Simply call and check around in your area. Prices typically range from $35 to $315, with the price increasing with the size of the tree you desire.

4. Modern Wood Trees

which christmas tree type is most eco-friendly and sustainable

Total Score: 11/20

  • Materials and Production: 3/5
  • Longevity and Disposal: 3/5
  • Overall Environmental Impact: 2/5
  • Accessibility: 3/5

Similar to houseplant trees, modern wood trees are a way to get creative this holiday season. Consumer trends in recent years have produced a mix of DIY and purchasable options to satisfy your desire for modern holiday decor.

Modern wood trees are made with—you guessed it—wood. While wood is a natural material, there is extra processing involved to transform the raw material into home decorations. In comparison to living trees and rental trees, mass-manufactured wood trees may utilize a significant amount of resources, decreasing their sustainability levels.

When shopping for a wooden tree, consider how the tree was made and which accessories or paint the tree comes with. A reusable all-natural wooden tree purchased from an artisan or small business—like those bought locally or on Etsy—is the most sustainable store-bought option. But it would be even more eco-friendly to make your own using wood you already have.

The environmental impact generally depends on the materials used and whether the tree was mass-produced. Plus, it’s important to note that these trees don’t continue to better the environment as rented real trees do.

Longevity ultimately depends on your personal preference. Which style are you trying to match, and how long do you foresee it lasting? If you’re content with the choice you make, your tree can be reused for years to come. However, if you change your mind and want a new style, these trees won’t last. Instead, they may wind up in landfills like other trendy decors.

Modern wood trees are one of the priciest options on this list with options costing up to $300, In-person events like holiday craft sales or flea markets can also hold one-of-a-kind, modern wood tree alternatives.

5. Artificial Trees

which christmas tree type is most eco-friendly and sustainable

Total Score: 9/20

  • Materials and Production: 1/5
  • Longevity and Disposal: 3/5
  • Overall Environmental Impact: 1/5
  • Accessibility: 4/5

Rounding out our ranking is the artificial Christmas tree. Consumers assume buying an artificial tree to use year after year would be a more eco-friendly option than buying a live tree that’s cut down and disposed of. But the reality? You would need to reuse your artificial tree for a minimum of 10 Christmases to keep its environmental impact lower than a real tree. And on average, Americans only keep artificial trees for six years.

So, why are artificial trees so bad for the planet? To make artificial holiday trees, materials like PVC plastic, copper, and steel are combined, making them difficult to dispose of. Therefore, many artificial trees are sent to landfills. On top of the unsustainable materials, most artificial trees are also imported from China, racking up additional carbon emissions from transport.

The good news is if an artificial tree is the best and most accessible option for you, it becomes more eco-friendly the longer it stays in use. After 10 years of use, it has offset its environmental impact. If you use it longer, that’s even better for the planet.

As for the cost, artificial trees can be pricey. Due to supply chain issues this year, they’re 20-30% more expensive at an average of $104 (compared to $78 for a live tree). However, if you do buy an artificial tree this year, you won’t need to buy another next year. You can even opt to purchase an affordable artificial tree for sale in secondhand shops like Goodwill.

A Sustainable Holiday Goes Beyond the Tree

Sustainability is important year-round, but it’s especially crucial during the holidays when we experience an increase in overall waste and carbon emissions.

While choosing a holiday tree is a big decision, the type you purchase isn’t the only factor that determines how sustainable your holiday season is. Also consider buying eco-friendly gifts, traveling more sustainably, and adding plant-based meals to your holiday menu to reduce your carbon footprint and cut down on waste.

Additionally, widespread supply chain disruptions are impacting tree markets across live, artificial, and alternative options, so shoppers may face different constraints and compromises this year. Whichever tree type you choose to decorate, we hope it brings joyful memories to you and your loved ones this holiday season. 


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Not sure what type of Christmas tree to buy this year? Don't worry—we ranked the most popular trees from most to least eco-friendly to help you choose!

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