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Real or Artificial Tree: Which is more Environmentally Friendly?

With the holidays right around the corner, many people are deciding whether they should go with a real Christmas tree. An artificial tree might be easier to maintain, keep, and reuse in the following years, but did you know that real Christmas trees might be better for the environment? The Nature Conservancy states that real Christmas trees help fight climate change and buying one helps support forests. Well maintained Christmas tree forests can help reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change. Trees can sequester carbon and help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere all while releasing oxygen.

Christmas trees growing in a row
Christmas Tree Farm

Real Christmas trees also provide habitat for wildlife and help improve water quality through water absorption. Many Christmas tree farms are also local or family-owned operations, so purchasing a Christmas tree from a small privately owned business can help support local communities. While you may feel bad about cutting down a living tree, these trees will most likely get replaced with a new tree in the future. If the farms are sustainably managed, many trees will be replanted and will take several years to grow, providing environmental benefits during that time.

Real Christmas trees can also be repurposed for a better use. You can place your real Christmas tree in your backyard and provide shelter for winter wildlife. You can cover the tree with wildlife friendly treats. You can also rearrange the tree and create a wildlife-friendly brush pile to create habitat and shelter for birds, and other small animals. Bare Christmas tree branches can be used for a base of a compost pile. You can also turn the tree into mulch to use on paths or in a garden. Burning the tree may not be the best idea as stored carbon can end up back in the atmosphere. Lastly, live-cut Christmas trees make great habitat for fish when submerged underwater in a pond or lake to help provided habitat and refuge to fish. ODNR participates in Christmas tree recycling and locations for drop off can be found at or by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE. You can also check with your local city or township to see if they have real Christmas tree recycling options.

However, there are still a few environmental concerns with real Christmas trees. Real trees can take lots of water, pesticide, and fertilizers to maintain, and runoff from access fertilizer can cause impacts to local waterways. Shipping real trees, as well as artificial trees, can also produce greenhouse gas emissions. Most artificial trees are imported out of state, being transported by fossil fuel powered ships and heavy freight trucks. Artificial trees are also often made with plastic and can cause environmental impacts if illegally dumped or left in a landfill. They take years to decompose if left in a landfill and plastic pollution is becoming an increasing concern in our waterways. However, if you choose to go with an artificial tree, they will have less of an environmental impact if kept for several years and then donated instead of disposing of it in a landfill. Whether you decide to go with a real or artificial tree for Christmas, keep in mind the best way to maintain and dispose of the tree to help reduce your environmental impact. A Christmas tree is a once a year decision while other decisions you make might have a larger environmental impact, such as recycling, not littering, not illegally dumping down storm drains, and volunteering for cleanups and invasive species removal around your community.

Some Christmas Tree Farms in Butler County, courtesy of Travel Butler County:

* John T Nieman Nursery

3215 Hamilton New London Road

Hamilton, OH 45013

*Koch Christmas Trees

6232 Hamilton Scipio Road

Hamilton, OH 45053

*Bartels Farm

4427 Cotton Run Road

Hamilton, OH 45011


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