Ask Ignacio: Natural vs. Plastic Trees

December 2012

What is more sustainable a natural tree or a plastic one? Asks Sustainable Gift Giver.

What should we consider?


  • A plastic tree is made out of a petroleum product intertwined with a wire mesh, both of these components are very carbon intensive. Although, they can be used forever.
  • A real tree is a real tree that is chopped down. It is sad to see a tree chopped down just for our entertainment though (sorry, my tree hugger side is showing). Also, they can only be used once.

So theoretically, the plastic tree seems like the better bet, because they can be used forever...

Well, as many U of C students discover when they enter the workforce, theory is cool and all, but it doesn't always reflect the real world.


How many people do you know who used the same plastic tree 15 years in a row?


Just because plastic trees can be used forever, doesn't mean they are. Most plastic trees are thrown out after a couple of years due to the tree becoming gradually less attractive. The durability you admired when you first bought it, now becomes a curse. A curse to this planet and your dreams for the end of time. Haunting like this. That's right, that creepy.

Natural non-denominational trees are generally farmed, not clear cutting the taiga or anything like that. They are a carbon sink due to the fact that they are recycled into wood mulch most of them time. They also decompose naturally.

So Natural trees are your best bet.

Yes we can!

Of course, only smart people read this column, so we can do better!

How about?

You plant a pine tree and shower it with affection. Decorate it for the birds by putting all kinds of bird treats on them. Then bask in the glory of your tree with all of your neighbors, loved ones, and all the people you chose to forgive for past transgressions. Form a drum circle and play music while forming a bond with the human race. Because regardless of what you celebrate (or don't celebrate) we are all people bound by love and respect. Yeah Guys (and not guys)!

But for serious, guys! There are some things you can do. Consider buying a potted tree that way you can get a few years out of it, maybe even sell it when it gets too big. Make sure you get your tree mulched, most big cities have a free tree mulching program, and Chicago is no exception.

In general, think about where all the things you are buying will end up. Be creative in thinking of little differences you can make. That might mean buying the same things and disposing of them differently. Maybe just buying different things, or maybe, deity-forbid, less stuff.

Happy Non-denominational Winter Season to all, and to all a good night!