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Which is better: a real or a fake Christmas tree?

For shoppers who can't decide which tree to buy this year

The majority of North Americans who decorate a Christmas tree each year choose artificial trees. If you are debating about whether to invest in an artificial tree this year or go with the natural option, here are some things to consider:

  • If you are concerned about real trees posing a fire hazard, you may be surprised to know that artificial trees are potentially harmful to your health. Many are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which often uses lead as a stabilizer. If you are considering an artificial tree make sure to understand how it’s made.
  • If it seems wasteful to chop down a tree to enjoy for a short time, consider that the average artificial tree is used for only 6-9 years whereas it will remain in a landfill for centuries. Make sure to buy a high-quality artificial tree that you will use for 20+ years if you want to reduce your environmental impact.
  • Real trees produce significant benefits during the growing process. Each acre of Christmas trees produces enough daily oxygen for 18 people, and 2-3 new seedlings are planted for each tree that is cut. There are about 500,000 acres in production for growing Christmas Trees in the US, much of it preserving green space. And, due to their hardiness, Christmas trees are often planted where few other plants grow, thereby increasing soil stability, protecting the water supply and providing a refuge for wildlife.*
  • According to the US Commerce Department, North American Christmas tree farms employ more than 100,000 people in primarily rural economies whereas 80% of artificial trees worldwide are manufactured in China.

If you want to have a real tree, the most sustainable option is to purchase a potted Christmas tree and replant it in your yard after the holidays. When choosing a retailer, remember that Christmas trees are an agricultural product and so the common issues of mass agriculture apply. Buy a tree from a reputable retailer that sources ethically or directly from a small-scale sustainable grower and choose organic to reduce pesticide use.

Replanting Christmas trees in Calgary in January is tough, but you can still avoid sending it to the landfill. Simply remove the decorations, tinsel and nails, and cut it up so it fits inside your green cart with the lid closed. The City of Calgary collects approximately 35,000 trees each year and mulches them for use in City green spaces and the Calgary Zoo.


  1. Check out the Laura’s Rules blog for more information about the health hazards of artificial trees and how to avoid them.
  2. Check out The City of Calgary’s Christmas tree recycling program, including a list of drop off locations for apartment and condo dwellers.
  3. Take a trip to Greengate Garden Centre for your Christmas tree. They offer real and artificial options, all of which are high quality and ethically sourced. Don’t forget to bring a donation of transit tickets, personal toiletries or gently used winter clothing for the annual Help the Homeless drive for Calgary Homeless Foundation and do some good for the community at the same time!

*National Christmas Tree Association