Which Christmas Tree Should You Get?

(Published on Wednesday, November 25, 2015, in The Daily Citizen, Dalton, GA.)

Recycle & Reuse: Which Christmas Tree Should You Get? Real or Artificial?

Should your family get a real tree or an artificial tree this year? Which one is better?

Should your family get a real tree or an artificial tree this year? Which one is better?

As Thanksgiving celebrations come to a close this weekend many families enjoy the traditional activity of purchasing and decorating a Christmas tree. A quick visit to almost any retail store will reveal artificial trees with faux snow on the branches and even some colored a very bright hot pink. Of course, there are many sizes to choose from, starting with the tiny tree just for kids to the extremely tall versions for rooms with high ceilings.

My personal favorite, however, is the real, live, natural Christmas tree with the unmistakable pine scent that reminds me of previous holiday festivities. While there are not as many size or color choices available with a real tree, the scent is an unmistakable sign that the holiday season has begun. Decorating either tree will be satisfying and memorable, but which tree is really better? Is it the artificial tree or the natural tree?

I’ve come to the conclusion that choosing a tree is very personal. At the end of the day, you need to choose the tree that will work best for you. If you’ll be traveling a lot, for example, it’s probably not convenient to maintain a real tree that will require you refill a water pan every few days. Here are some highlights for each type of tree that may help you make a decision before you go out to find the perfect Christmas tree for 2015.

Probably the biggest advantage of artificial Christmas trees is their longevity. You purchase a tree just once and it can be reused for years. Contrast that to a real tree that you have to purchase and replace year after year and that can add up to hundreds of dollars saved over the life an artificial tree. The key is to reuse the artificial tree as much as possible.

In 2009 the environmental firm Ellipsos of Montreal found that “an artificial tree would have to be reused for more than 20 years to be greener than buying a fresh-cut tree annually.” If you already have or plan to purchase an artificial tree maintain it in good condition by cleaning it and storing it in its original box during the off-season. 

Artificial Christmas trees, though convenient, are not exactly the best choice for the planet. They’re made from petroleum-based, non-biodegradable plastics like PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and other metals and glues making them un-recyclable. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 85% of artificial Christmas trees are manufactured in China, which means they have to travel a very long way, increasing our carbon emissions. 

Live natural Christmas trees, however, are harvested from tree farms that tend to be within a few hours from the retailer which greatly reduces carbon emissions from transportation. Tree farms are able to produce a sustainable product since one to three seedlings are planted to replace the tree that was harvested. These trees also remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere replacing it with oxygen. One acre of Christmas trees is estimated to produce enough oxygen for the daily needs of eighteen people.

Unlike artificial trees, live trees can be recycled when they’re chipped and made into mulch that can be used in landscaping and gardening. You can recycle your live, natural, undecorated tree by attending Keep Dalton-Whitfield Beautiful’s annual Christmas Tree Recycling event at The Home Depot in Dalton on Saturday, January 9, 2016. Participants will receive a seedling or a packet of seeds to plant at home. Visit www.keepdaltonwhitfieldbeautiful.org for more details.

All four Whitfield County Convenience Centers accept live trees year round as part of their yard trimmings collection program. Trees collected at each site are chipped and also made into mulch that is available for residents. Call the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority at 706-277-2545 for more information. City of Dalton residents may qualify for pickup at the curb of yard trimmings. Call the City of Dalton Public Works Department at 706-278-7077 to find out when the next pickup day is.

If you want the benefits of a live tree but don’t want to use a one that’s been cut down, do a search online for live Christmas trees in a planter. They’re called potted or planted living Christmas trees. These tend to be small in size and are safe to leave indoors for up to ten days. After the festivities, they can stay in the pot outdoors for up to two years. Then, you can transplant the tree to your backyard. It’s a great way to keep memories of family gatherings alive.


Liz Swafford is the Recycling and Education Program Coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority.  Have questions about recycling in Whitfield County? Call 706-278-5001, or e-mail lswafford@dwswa.org.