The Great Christmas Tree Debate

Each holiday season there is a debate as to whether it is better for the environment to use an artificial or a natural Christmas tree. Unfortunately, the most appropriate choice is not always obvious. This can often be confusing to consumers who want to make an eco-friendly choice. The Recycling Council of B.C. has pulled together various facts so that B.C. consumers can make the eco-friendly choice.

To make an informed decision, it is necessary to consider the impact at each of the life stages (i.e. production, use by consumer, and disposal) for both types of tree. Some key questions to consider include: which raw materials are used in producing the product? How much energy is consumed in transport? How much air and water is polluted as a result of production and transport? What becomes of the tree after the
holidays are over?

Here are some pros and cons to consider:

Artificial Christmas Trees


  • Most produced abroad (China, Taiwan, South Korea) where they have less stringent environmental regulations, poorer working conditions and lower wages
  • Most artificial trees will travel thousands of kilometers before reaching Canadian consumers, requiring the burning of fossil fuel which causes air pollution, smog, acid rain and increasing numbers of deaths from ship engine emissions
  • Oil is the main ingredient in plastic trees
  • Fossil fuels are a non-renewable resource

Consumer Use:

  • On average, an artificial tree will last 7-10 years
  • PVC (vinyl) contains phthalates, which accumulate in body tissues and can damage liver, lungs and reproductive organs


  • Cannot be recycled and so must be landfilled or incinerated (this is because the plastic and metal cannot be separated, making the trees unfit for recycling)
  • If landfilled, materials will not break down
  • Incineration can release dioxins and other carcinogens into the air which can pose health risks

Real Christmas Trees


  • If grown in Canada it supports local economy - five to six million Christmas trees are grown each year in Canada, providing year-round and seasonal employment
  • In plantations, shrubs are commonly controlled by mowing, though some herbicides may be used to prepare the site for planting
  • Improper use of pesticides can have potential health risks and implications for water quality, aquatic fauna and wildlife
  • Every acre of Christmas trees grown provides daily oxygen for 18 people
  • Tree-farms support complex eco-systems
  • Tree roots stabilize soil, protecting water sources from sedimentation
  • Trees sequester carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the air

Consumer Use:

  • Unless purchasing a "live" tree, a real tree is used for one season only
  • Allowing a tree to dry out is a potential fire hazard
  • Tradition plays a large part in the choice of a real tree (i.e. choosing the perfect tree, the aroma, etc.)


  • Real Christmas trees are recyclable and biodegradable
  • Christmas tree recycling programs are offered after the holidays in most municipalities (either pick-up or curbside collection), often supporting local charities
  • Trees trunks and branches can be used as mulch for gardens and parks. The mulch provides protective barrier for the roots of other plants and vegetation which prevents weeds from growing. The mulch then decomposes, providing the nutrients plants need.

For more information, visit:

  1. The Great Christmas Tree Debate (full article)
  2. Additional info on Real vs Artificial Christmas Trees (full article)
    (see pages 4 & 5)