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Tell Me Why: Is buying a real Christmas tree better for the environment than buying a fake tree?

Tell Me Why: Is a real Christmas tree more sustainable than a fake tree?
Tell Me Why: Is a real Christmas tree more sustainable than a fake tree? 03:12

As you're decorating your home for the holidays, have you ever thought about the difference a real Christmas tree and a fake Christmas tree have on the environment?

Every year, Americans buy between 35 million and 50 million Christmas trees while many more pull an artificial tree out of storage for the season.  

Real vs. fake: Which is more sustainable?

Dr. Aaron Stottlemyer, Texas A&M Forest Service Forest Analytics Department Head, says the Christmas tree industry is crucial to supporting the trees' lifecycle, expanding trees' potential beyond their natural life and creating sustainable forests and economies. 

"Christmas tree farms are forests, they're an excellent wildlife habitat," Stottlemyer said. "Forests stabilize the soil, clarify the drinking water, provide recreational opportunities. Trees sequester carbon."

Is there a sustainable way to get rid of your real Christmas tree?

Real Christmas trees have numerous environmental benefits. They're composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, which in turn goes back into the environment.

Fake trees, which are usually composed of plastic, nylon and steel, take a long time to decompose, Stottlemyer said.

"Fake trees can only go to one place, which is landfill, one of the key environmental downsides," he said. "There's no way to repurpose them."

What is the lifecycle of a Christmas tree?

The Texas A&M Forest Service has its own tree improvement program, where they work with the Texas Christmas Tree Grower Association to provide them with seeds, Stottlemyer said.

From there, the members of the association take the seeds and grow seedlings. In one to two years, those seedlings are planted on farms. After another year or two, the seedlings are planted on farms. Then five to eight years later, your average Christmas tree is ready. In total, it's a six to 10 year cycle.

If you're still in the market for a Christmas tree, visit the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association's farm finder here.

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