The Great Real or Fake Christmas Tree Debate

Which one's really the greener option?

Cut down a tree or invest in a whole lot of plastic to celebrate this holiday? Though environmentalists once touted saving a tree by buying plastic, now the green sentiment is in favour of the real. Indeed, research shows that live trees are by far the greener choice.

What’s wrong with that fake tree?

The biggest problem with that fake tree is that it is made of plastic. Not just any plastic, but arguably the worst of all plastics: polyvinyl chloride, aka PVC. PVC has gotten such a bad name because it releases the super-toxin dioxin and contains both lead and phthalates. Both of these probable neurotoxins can release into the environment of your home from your tree.

Although your PVC tree can last for Christmas after Christmas, it is neither recyclable nor biodegradable, meaning the plastic will remain in the landfill, more or less, forever. Those plastic trees also travel a long way to get to your home: 85% are manufactured in China. Oh, and to top it off, fake trees are far more flammable than real trees because they are made from a petroleum-based plastic. If a fake tree catches on fire, it ignites almost like gasoline.

Your Real Canadian Christmas tree!

Good news: If you buy a real tree in Canada, it likely comes from a Christmas tree farm: 98% of Canadian trees are farmed. There are 33,500 hectares of land used for growing Christmas trees in Canada. These trees serve as a carbon sink, produce oxygen, and provide habitat for birds and wildlife. They also provide local jobs.

Unfortunately, the 5 million Christmas trees that are sold in Canada each year also create a huge amount of landfill waste. If you buy a real tree, make sure that you recycle it! If you have a big yard, you can let your tree go to the birds by laying it in the backyard where the local habitat will make quick use of it. If you are apartment or high-rise dwellers, then rest assured that most municipalities offer free tree recycling programs. 

Greening your Christmas Tree

If you want to go even greener with your Christmas tree purchase, there are a variety of other options available to you.

1. Buy a live tree.

My family has done this for years. Most pine trees can live for many years in a pot or you can replant the tree in your yard. This is also an option for those living in high-rises which often have rules against bringing cut Christmas trees up and down in the elevators.

2. Decorate something else.

For years there was a Fica tree at our house. My high-rise living neighbours once made a huge paper tree that they taped to their wall and decorated. I know others who adopted a living tree outside and decorated it with real popcorn, dried fruits, and other bird goodies. There are abundant and creative alternatives to the traditional tree!

3. Rent a tree!

Why own a tree that you will only use for three weeks? In BC, you can rent. For about $100, a full-size, live tree is delivered to you and then taken away after the holidays where it is cared for until the next Holiday Season.