British Columbia

Real vs. artificial: Which type of Christmas tree is worse for the environment?

Environmental organization Sierra Club B.C. says live cut trees left in a landfill can produce dangerous levels of methane gas.

One environmental organization wants people to think hard about their tree choice this year

The Sierra Club of B.C. wants people to think hard about their tree choice this year. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

With the holidays just around the corner, an environmental organization wants British Columbians to think carefully before choosing between a real and an artificial Christmas tree.

Victoria-based organization Sierra Club B.C. is urging people to consider the environmental impacts of each option before making a decision. 

"A live-cut tree has less impact than an artificial one," Sierra Club spokesperson Tim Pearson told Gloria Macarenko, host of On The Coast.

But he warns that the environmental impact of a real tree — although less than that of an artificial one — still exists.

People who want to reduce their carbon footprint should make sure their tree is grown locally, without pesticides, and is properly recycled after the holiday season, Pearson said. 

The best way to recycle a tree is by turning it into mulch or compost by getting it chipped. But whatever you do, never leave a real tree in a landfill, Pearson warned. 

"If it goes in a landfill it will actually end up being a source of methane emissions," he said. "Methane is an extremely bad greenhouse gas, is about 86 times worse than [carbon dioxide] over a 20-year period."

Recycle your natural Christmas tree by getting it chipped or leaving it out to be collected by city crews. (Gwyndion M. Williams/Flickr)

Reducing impact of artificial trees 

For people who already own an artificial tree, they should try to use it for at least two decades to reduce its environmental impact, Pearson said.

Twenty years is how long Pearson says it would take for the artificial tree to have the same impact as a real one. 

"But the average artificial tree lasts about six years before it's thrown out and replaced," he said, adding that artificial trees cannot be recycled because of the way they are made. 

Another option is using a potted tree that can be brought inside during the holidays and put back outside afterwards, Pearson said. 

With files from On The Coast


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