SEATTLE — Christmas is fast approaching, and with it comes the annual debate: Which is better – a real or a fake Christmas tree? A fake tree is certainly easier to maintain, but is it better for the environment than a real Christmas tree?
About 80% of American households will display a Christmas tree this year, and of those, about 80% are fake, according to the American Christmas Tree Association.
That’s understandable as there’s no cleanup and you avoid the hassle of buying and disposing of a tree every winter.
Plus, it saves you money. The average natural Christmas tree costs about $80. Fake ones are about $100, so by your second year using it, you’re saving cash.
But there’s a big myth about the impact on the environment.
Dr. Sally Brown, a nationally-renowned soil specialist at the University of Washington, told KING 5, "People think, 'Christmas trees - they’re destroying the woods, destroying the forests.'"
But Brown confirmed that's not true because almost all Christmas trees are grown on farms that wouldn't exist without the holiday.
"It's actually a really nice, sustainable type of agriculture," explained Brown. "You're getting good land use and benefits to the soil from growing these trees, and it's a big source of income. So, the environmental impact of having acreage devoted to Christmas tree farms is pretty minimal."
Christmas trees are also a tiny piece of the environmental pie.
One major study by PE International found that real or fake, Christmas trees account for less than 0.1% of the average person’s annual carbon footprint. A much bigger factor is driving to and from the tree farms.
"If you get an artificial tree, you’re not destroying the environment," she said. "You’re not helping it either. I would say the scale is a little bit in favor of a real tree."
Whether it’s an actual tree or PVC, as long as you dispose of it properly, there’s no big winner or loser for Christmas trees.