It’s the season for celebrating! It’s time to go shopping for the perfect gifts for your loved ones, time to decorate cookies with way too much icing, and of course, time to decorate the Christmas tree.

The tradition of the Christmas tree dates back thousands of years. Ancient people would hang evergreen boughs and other plants that stay green all year round as a symbol of life during the long, harsh Winter months. The plants served as a reminder that Winter would end and Summer would soon return.

Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we know it today: bringing a conifer tree into our home and decorating it with lights and ornaments. Over time, the practice has been more widely accepted and now has become the norm as we know it.

Today, there is one question which those who celebrate the holiday must ask every year: real or fake? If you’re someone who cares about the environmental impact of this tradition, you might want to give this question a little more thought this year.

There are some benefits to artificial trees. They can be more cost effective; you only buy them once and then you can reuse them year after year. They also tend to be less hassle. No cutting them down and tying them to the roof of the car. No carrying them inside and getting pine needles and sap everywhere. No need to worry about watering it, or what to do with it after New Year’s has come and gone.

But when it comes to the health of the planet and ourselves, real trees are a much better option. Here’s why:

Artificial trees are made of plastic.

Most artificial Christmas trees are made of metal and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, both of which are non-biodegradable and non-recyclable. This is bad news for the earth because no matter how many times you reuse that tree, when you’re finished with it, it’s just going in a landfill where it will sit indefinitely.

Additionally, many artificial trees still contain lead, which can be released into the air as “lead dust” over time. In 2002, a study at the University of North Carolina found that three out of four trees tested contained lead. Breathing in this “lead dust” is not good for anyone, but can pose a serious risk for children under the age of six.

Most artificial trees are imported from China.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, about 85% of artificial Christmas trees are imported from China. This means the carbon footprint of fake trees is much greater, as it requires much more fuel to transport the trees from the factory, to the stores, to our homes.

Not only that, but the Christmas industry in China is not one that is kind to its factory workers. The Washington Post paints a picture of what these factories are like: “On the concrete floors of Zhang’s Shuitou Co. factory, migrant workers, most earning about $100 a month, squat in front of hissing machinery as they melt chips into moldable plastic, pulling levers by hand to squeeze out Christmas tree ornaments.” Just as with anything we buy, it’s difficult to regulate the supply chains of products coming from other countries, whose labor laws are much less strict than ours in the US.

But, aren’t artificial trees fireproof?

Not exactly. Most artificial trees do contain flame retardants. Although they are meant to decrease the likelihood of catching fire, this means they contain lots of toxic chemicals that can be extremely harmful to you and your family.

Plus, flame retardants don’t mean the tree won’t catch on fire. The Farmington Hills Fire Department in Detroit conducted a test to see how a real versus artificial tree reacts to a house fire. Although the fake tree resisted the flame for a little bit, once it did catch fire, the destruction was much worse than that of the real tree fire.

Most Christmas-time house fires are caused by faulty wires and overloaded electrical outlets. To protect yourself and your home against fires started by holiday decorations, you should take the same steps regardless of whether you have a real or fake tree. Use surge protectors on your outlets and try to disperse lights among different outlets. Unplug your lights when you’re not home and before going to bed at night. Replace any string of lights that has exposed or broken wires.

Real trees absorb carbon dioxide from the environment and emit oxygen for us to breathe.

Some may hesitate to choose the real tree option because the thought of chopping down a tree is actually the opposite of eco-friendly. We need more trees to be planted, not chopped down, right?! But consider the good that one tree can do during it’s life.

While growing, an acre of fir trees can provide enough daily oxygen for 18 people. Christmas tree farms also stabilize soil, protect water supplies, support natural ecosystems, and take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. All of this contributes to the overall health of the planet!

Real trees can go right back into the ground when we’re finished using them.

Of course, real trees are recyclable. They can be broken down and used as mulch, recycled wood, and more. Most communities have either designated tree pickup times or drop off locations. A simple Google search of “Christmas tree recycling in {your city}” will most likely tell you how to go about ridding of your tree in the most eco-friendly way.

When you buy a real tree, you’re supporting local, independent farmers.

It’s almost always better to shop local when you can. Purchasing a real Christmas tree means you’re getting it from a farmer who either lives right down the road, or maybe just a state or two away (depending on if the trees can be grown where you live). So when you buy a real tree, you’re supporting your local economy.

Real trees are more fun, and they smell better!

Getting bundled up, grabbing some hot chocolate, and making the trek out into the cold each year to pick out the perfect Christmas tree with your family makes for a really fun tradition. Then, when you get the tree home, it fills the whole room with the smell of Christmas! That’s something you just can’t get from a fake tree.

OTHER CHRISTMAS TREE ALTERNATIVES

Get a re-plantable tree!

Getting a potted Christmas tree is the most environmentally friendly option there is. It’s essentially like renting a tree: you pick it up, take it home, and decorate it as you normally would. The only difference is that instead of chopping it down, it stays potted. Then after Christmas is over, you return it to be replanted!

There are not very many companies that provide this service. If you live in Oregon, check out The Original Potted Christmas Tree Company. If you’re in California, take a look at Adopt a Christmas Tree or The Living Christmas Co.

If you’re not in one of these regions and still want to get a replantable tree for your family this Christmas, don’t fret! It’s still possible, it just requires a little more work. The Original Potted Christmas Tree Company gives step by step directions for how to go about finding, bringing home, and replanting your own fir.

Get creative and think outside the box.

Maybe you’re open to the idea of starting a different Christmas tradition this year. Instead of a traditional green, bristled tree covered in lights and ornaments, purchase or make one that is made out of recycled and reusable wood or cardboard. Here are some great ideas for an unconventional Christmas tree alternative which might be fun for your family to try!

If you’re in the market to purchase a new tree this year, consider choosing the more earth-friendly (and health-friendly) option: a real, home-grown evergreen!