Nobody wants to be Scrooge on Christmas (well sometimes I do), but did you know that your Christmas tree might be hurting the environment? Are live Christmas trees any better than artificial? Well, it depends.
How eco-friendly are artificial trees?
At fist glance, the list of problems with artificial trees seems long. They are plastic. Often that plastic is PVC, which comes with many downsides. Some artificial trees can contain lead, which turns into lead dust as the tree ages.
Many trees are made in China, which means they’ve likely been shipped a long way to you. It created pollution when it was manufactured, and it will go to a landfill once it’s worn out.
If you already have an artificial tree, don’t throw it out! The damage has been done, and the best thing you can do is to keep using it. If you can use it for 10-20 years, it actually becomes LESS destructive than live Christmas trees!
If you really can’t keep using your artificial tree, re-home it to someone who can, or use the parts of it that are still in good shape to make garlands or wreaths.
Are live Christmas trees better?
Live Christmas trees also have their pros and cons. Growing Christmas trees can use a lot of water, and some farms do use fertilizer that can potentially create a dead zone in bodies of water downstream. They also have to be disposed of each year.
On the other hand, Christmas trees can take 8 years to grow, and they provide wildlife habitat and oxygen while they grow. Each time they are cut down, new trees are planted in their place to keep the business going. Also, Christmas tree farms can be located on hills that aren’t able to be used for other crops.
Buying a live Christmas tree each year also supports rural economy and local farmers. Even trees shipped from Oregon or North Carolina, (the biggest producers), are still closer than China.
If you do use a live Christmas tree, don’t just throw it away. Recycle it through a city-wide curbside program, mulch it for use around your fruit trees, turn it into a hugelkultur bed, or feed it to your goats!
You can also chop it and use it as firewood. I’ve stayed plenty warm by burning Christmas tree trunks in our wood stove. Even if you don’t use a wood stove which burns the smoke particulates before they reach the sky, it will release carbon dioxide, instead of the more harmful methane that it would from a landfill.
Are there more eco-friendly options?
If you want something that’s an even better option than a live or reusable Christmas tree, here are some ideas!
- If you have a live tree in your yard you can simply decorate it where it stands!
- Buy a live tree from an organic or FSC certified farm.
- Grow your own
- Make your own Christmas tree out of wood, paper, or other eco-friendly materials. (Eco and Beyond has a nice example).
- Buy a second hand artificial tree.
- Use a potted Christmas tree and either plant it into your yard or move it into a bigger pot as it grows each year.
- Rent a tree (I had not heard of this before, but apparently it is a thing!)
So what is the most eco-friendly Christmas tree?
Choose a tree with roots that will not die after one use for the most eco-friendly Christmas. If that’s not an option, you may be better off with a live Christmas tree, especially if it comes from a local farmer. If you do go with a reusable tree, try to find one that is PVC and lead free. Then use it for as long as possible!
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