Newswise — The most environmentally friendly option during the holiday season is to purchase a real Christmas tree instead of an artificial one, according to a Kansas State University forestry expert.

"Right now in the United States there are probably a million acres growing around a half billion Christmas trees," said Robert Atchison, forester with the Kansas Forest Service at K-State. "While these trees are growing, they're also providing all the environmental benefits that trees provide: they're giving off oxygen, they're absorbing carbon dioxideand they're providing wildlife habitat.

"Just because trees are what they are, they're much more environmentally friendly than a product made out of plastic that has PVC and in some cases, lead."

Atchison said research has shown that artificial trees, which aren't biodegradable, are typically only used for six to nine years on average and then sent to a landfill.

In contrast, a real Christmas tree can be recycled into something more beneficial to the environment, such as mulch or wildlife habitats, both aquatic and terrestrial.

Another environmentally friendly option is purchasing a living Christmas tree that can be planted after the holiday season is over, Atchison said.

"There are just all kinds of great things you can do with your tree," he said. "A lot of people put them in their backyards for songbirds."

Most communities, including Manhattan, have places where real Christmas trees can be recycled. Atchison encourages everyone to contact their local recycling facility to learn about options for recycling real or artificial trees.

A real Christmas tree is a no-guilt purchase, he said.

"You're not really cutting down a forest per se when you buy a real Christmas tree," he said. "For every real Christmas tree that is harvested, you're going to see one to three other trees planted."