If you are concerned about the environment, go green with a real Christmas tree. It’s the best and most sustainable Christmas tree choice.
Like many small farmers, we live on the land we farm and so we are connected to it in a unique way. We care about being responsible stewards of our land as well as the health and well being of all those who work with us and live around us. We honor our land, our Hart-T-Tree Farms family, and our broader community by using reasonable farming practices and an integrated pest management system.
We know that Christmas trees are green, but are they eco-friendly? It’s a debate that continues season after season. The short answer is yes, compared to an artificial tree, a real Christmas tree is more eco-friendly. How did we arrive at that conclusion? Read the articles below to discover more about real Christmas trees.
First, however, let’s put the issue in perspective. Your choice of Christmas tree is not going to have a significant environmental impact. If you are really concerned about the environment, consider making more earth-friendly choices in your daily routine – like riding a bicycle to work, turning the water off while brushing your teeth, or using a reusable shopping bag. Doing those things, even over a couple of days, will have a greater impact on the environment than your choice of Christmas tree.
But back to the question: How Green are Christmas Trees?
The Great Christmas Tree Debate: Real vs. Artificial?
There are a number of reasons why an individual or family might choose a real tree or an artificial tree for Christmas, but if your choice is based on which tree is more earth-friendly, environmentalists across the nation have come to a fairly clear-cut consensus: real is better.
There are several reasons that a real tree is more eco-friendly than an artificial tree, but the primary reason is because an artificial tree is non-biodegradable. Most artificial trees are made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) plastic that will sit in landfills forever. Also, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, when produced or burned, artificial trees release dioxins that can cause liver cancer and developmental problems.
According to a Life Cycle Assessment conducted in 2009 by Ellipsos (a consulting firm in Montreal that specializes in sustainable development) that compared the environmental impact of a real (or natural) tree vs. an artificial tree, artificial trees have a greater overall impact on climate change. The carbon emissions used in the production and transport of artificial trees are greater than the carbon emissions used in the production and transport of real trees. Interestingly enough, the study also noted that “Carpooling or biking to work only one to three weeks per year would offset the carbon emissions from both types of Christmas trees.”
What about the impact of a real, farmed Christmas tree on the surrounding eco-system? All factors considered, if farmers practice integrated pest management farming methods and keep pesticide use to a minimum, Christmas trees can have a positive impact on the environment. See our section on Christmas Trees & The Environment below for more details.
For more information about real vs. artificial, check out these articles and studies:
Christmas Trees: Farm vs. Forest
It is difficult for some individuals and families to imagine chopping a tree down, just to display it for 4-5 weeks at Christmas time. It seems sad and wasteful and so they opt for an alternative to a real tree. However, real Christmas trees do not come from forests. They come from farms. They are an agricultural crop, similar to produce, flowers, or plants. They are planted to be harvested and to proudly serve as the centerpiece of your Christmas season.
Generally, land is not cleared to farm Christmas trees. Many, if not most, Christmas trees in western North Carolina are grown on farms that were cleared long ago for use as pasture for cattle. At Hart-T-Tree Farms, 95% of the land used to grow our Christmas trees was land that was already cleared. Our “home farm” was originally a dairy farm. So, if the land was not a Christmas tree farm, it would support some other type of crop or livestock. Or worse — it would be made into a subdivision!
So, think of it this way: A little seedling was planted, many years ago, and given some tender loving care season after season just to have the opportunity to be someone’s Christmas tree! And while it was growing, it served as a home or shelter to countless birds, rabbits, mice, groundhogs, and other little creatures. That is one of the most special things about Christmas trees. Because it takes them many years to grow, they can become part of their surroundings in a way that other crops cannot.
And when Christmas is over, don’t just throw your tree in the dumpster or let it rot on the curbside. Recycle it. Then, the tree becomes part of the earth again and its circle of life continues…..
Check out Earth911.com to find a Christmas tree recycling center near you.
Christmas Trees & The Environment
While they are growing, Christmas trees support life by absorbing carbon dioxide and other gases while giving off fresh oxygen. Every acre of Christmas trees planted gives off enough oxygen to meet the needs of 18 people. Today in America, there are enough Christmas trees planted that 18 million people a day are supplied with oxygen. To ensure a constant supply, Christmas tree growers plant one to three new seedlings for every tree they harvest.
Also, the farms that grow Christmas trees help to stabilize soil, protect water supplies, and provide a refuge for wildlife.
Additionally, Christmas trees are grown on soil that will not support other crops. In western North Carolina, development has increased exponentially in the last few decades. Since Christmas trees can be grown on soil that cannot be used for other crops, landowners are able to make a profit on their land, preserving it as greenspace, and not feel pressured to sell out to developers.
For more information, visit the National Christmas Tree Association, the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association and the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.
Christmas Trees & Pesticides
Pesticides are one of the most controversial topics in the real tree debate. As a nation, we have become more aware of the health risk of pesticides used on the food we eat and the demand for organic produce has increased. Similarly, Christmas tree farmers have recognized the potential health risks in the use of pesticides on Christmas trees and in the last 10 years, have cut the use of pesticides in half.
Additionally, many farmers have adopted Integrated Pest Management techniques which also limit the use of pesticides.
For more information, please visit the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extenstion Program website. They have an entire section dedicated to Christmas tree production in North Carolina, including articles about the health concerns of pesticides used in Christmas tree production. Their information is very thorough and should answer a lot of questions!
Associations & Organizations
Articles & Studies
Don’t forget to recycle your Christmas tree! Check out Earth911.com to find a Christmas tree recycling center near you. Also, check out the National Christmas Tree Association to learn all about different ways to recycle a Christmas tree.