The Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree Dilemma

I live in Oregon where we’re surrounded by evergreens and breathe in pine-scented air on a daily basis.  Every Christmas I’ve had a real tree, some of which we tromped out into the woods to find and others that we’ve picked out at our local tree farms.  It has always seemed like a normal part of the holidays to have a real tree, so I was shocked to hear others touting the eco-benefits of plastic holiday trees.  Say it isn’t so! 

Still, it’s good to consider the plastic vs. real debate and then think beyond it.  There’s certain to be a tree that will fit your budget and your green values.

Pros of Real Trees

  • A fabulous woody scent
  • Real trees absorb carbon for the time that they’re alive
  • They can be composted or shredded into mulch (Available here but maybe not in other cities)
  • More natural than artificial trees
  • Don’t need to be stored year to year

 Cons of Real Trees

  • Must be replaced each year
  • Sometimes have to be shipped across country when local trees aren’t available
  • Often raised using pesticides           
  • If tossed into landfills, can take years to decompose
  • Fire danger
  • Messier than artificial trees

 Pros of artificial trees

  • Can be reused for several years
  • Cost less money over the long run
  • Are less messy than real trees
  • Don’t require a trip out to purchase a tree each year

Cons of artificial trees

  • Have plastic smell, or no smell whatsoever
  • Most are made in China and have to be shipped to the U.S.
  • Contain PVC, a material that pollutes during production and releases toxins
  • Have been known to contain lead
  • Will take centuries to break down in landfills
  • Have to be stored every year

 Thrifty Green Alternatives:

  • Decorate a tree outside your home
  • Plant a pine sapling in a large container and use it for several years.  When it gets too big, transplant it outside and start another one.
  • Be creative with a branch or a bunch of cuttings.
  • Use beer bottles!  O.K.  This photo is ridiculous and very UN-baby-proof, but it’s nice to know that people can think outside the box. 

If you celebrate Christmas, what sort of tree are you using this year?  Did you find a way to make it eco-friendlier? Thanks for sharing your input—and for joining us this Thrifty Green Thursday!  Please visit our amazing bloggers below and jump right in if you have a frugal, eco-friendly post to share.  


  1. For many years, my mother bought a “balled” Christmas tree. (The roots are all wrapped up in burlap.) After the holidays, a friend would plant the tree in her (huge, woodsy) backyard. About a dozen years’ worth of our family’s trees are still living behind her house!

    I’m not sure about the pesticide issue, or costs. And there are some limitations about how long you can keep the tree – we only had ours up for about a week, maybe ten days, tops. But since the end result isn’t mulch, but one more tree on the planet, I think it’s a great option.

  2. I just got an email the other day from someone that had a tree made of mountain dew cans……once it was finished and they had lights on……it looked really nice… did seem like a tedious task though. I more than likely won’t have a tree……we have a miniature fake one though!

  3. well, I figure if you recycle it, the tree gets made into paper right? Since some other tree was going to be made into paper, why not live a dual life as a Christmas tree? I know I saw an article in the Oregonian last week about which Christmas tree growers are eco-friendly. Going to the farm to pick out a tree is such a great family experience, it’s so, so, so hard to give up. Waaaahhh.

  4. We have never been able to justify the cost. We had a fake one our first Christmas married, but we’ve had kids since then and I just see my toddler pulling it over/getting hurt…

    I have a tree-like plant on our counter (I don’t know what it is) and I decorate it and put lights on it….Merry Christmas 😉

  5. This year, we plan to get a living Christmas tree to plant in our yard after the holidays. It is Liam’s first Christmas, so we thought it would be a neat way to commemorate the event. Of course, we will buy a locally grown tree.

    In previous years, we have always bought a cut tree. From my limited research on the issue, Christmas trees don’t require much pesticides or herbicides, and the tree farms dedicated to this market are constantly replanting and maintaining their lots, making these farms a renewable and sustainable practice. Our city’s services include curbside pick-up of the trees (and all branches and tree trimmings throughout the year) which they mulch for use throughout the city. Residents can purchase a gigantic truckload for their garden for only $1. (so surprising for Arkansas, but definitely appreciated).

    We are avoiding as many plastic products as possible, especially those containing PVC. That said, we have no intention of ever setting up an artificial tree.

    What is Christmas without the scent of pinery?

  6. We too do the real three thing. The lot uses no pesticides (not many needed with evergreens) and he replaces what is cut plus more every year. AFter the holidays they are mulched at our local dump and can be picked up for minimal cost in the spring for the gardens. To me this is far more economical than a plastic three that gets replaced often when the newest fad in fake trees come out. Our thrift stores are full of older fake trees that people got sick of or replaced with the newest thing. Actually we use those fake branches for outside and inside decorating. Less mess and use up stuff that was tossed away

  7. We had always gotten a cut tree in the past (both when I was growing up and after I got married) but the first Christmas after our son was born I was worried about him eating the pine needles than invariably litter the floor so we got a fake tree. We have an enormous (at least 50-foot-tall) pine tree in our front yard so we stick some branches from that into the fake tree for the real pine smell.

    Of course, this also saves us the yearly argument of short fat tree (which I prefer) vs. tall skinny tree (which my husband prefers). 🙂

  8. I have actually never bought a tree at all, but we are going to this year because we’re hosting Christmas dinner. Living in Oregon, I don’t have much eco-guilt about the issue. As others have mentioned, it is a pretty sustainable industry. A Douglas Fir takes just eight years to grow into a Christmas tree, and then it is replanted.

    If I didn’t live in Oregon, I may have to consider other options. I like the idea of buying a live tree and planting it in someone else’s yard, Fern!

  9. Growing up we almost always had a lovely, sweet scented, homey real tree. (can you tell I loved it!) Now, married we have a boring fake one. Mostly our decision was an economic one – ok, not mostly, all. I hope one day when this one just won’t cut it anymore we can get lovely real trees again. We have local farms and I think it would be a great tradition when the girls are older to go cut our tree. OUr city mulch-a-fies them after Christmas too.

  10. We have an artificial tree. Our logic is simple – we own it, so it makes the most sense financially and for the environment.

    Admittedly, it’s also just what I’m used to. My mother’s artificial tree has to be somewhere over 30 years old and still going strong.

    But someday when we buy a house, the first year will be a live tree so we can plant it in the yard to remember our first Christmas in that house by.

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