Is Your Christmas Tree Sustainable?

By Morgan O’Connor, Marketing and High Performance Building EcoFellow

Christmas TreeThis is a question we hear a lot this time of year. People often divide into two camps – artificial trees and living trees. There are a lot of factors that go into why someone chooses one over the other, some people have always grown up with living trees, others prefer the convenience of artificial trees, both of which are valid reasons, but it is important to clear up any misconceptions around which is more sustainable.

For the most part, choosing a real tree is better for the environment. It may be hard to reconcile this fact as you cut down a tree every year at the start of the Christmas season, but if you walked through the life cycle of an artificial tree it would be clear why. Artificial trees are commonly made of PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, which is listed as a carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program.

Artificial trees produce more greenhouse gases than living trees. For an artificial tree to be the more sustainable option, it needs to be used for 20 years, but typically artificial trees are disposed of after 6-10 years. Six living trees produce a third of the greenhouse gas emissions than an artificial tree used for 6 years.  Not to mention that Christmas trees are rarely wild cut trees, and are much more often grown sustainably and efficiently on Christmas tree farms, which after harvest are quickly replanted.

We could still do better in how we handle Christmas trees though, even after we’ve chosen a living tree. New organizations are renting potted Christmas trees and then picking them up after the holiday to replant them in needed areas, which is not a common service, but buying a potted tree and planting it oneself is still and option. The EPA estimates 33 million live trees are sold in America every Christmas – imagine if we planted all 33 million after the holidays!

Recycling and composting of Christmas trees is something that is easy to do as well, and keeps a natural material out of the landfill, where it would take much longer to decompose. Often towns have tree recycling events where they will normally process them through a woodchipper, and then use those woodchips for things like mulch. You can also leave leftover trees on your property in woods or ponds to create a wildlife habitat! Read more about what to do with your tree after the New Year on our blog – New Uses for Your Spruces: Creative Reuse for your Christmas Tree.

More Tips on How to Green Your Holiday

One comment


  • Gail Poulin

    We always go to a local tree farm to cut down our tree. The farmer makes a living by investing in and caring for the trees on his farm. We have it up for a month and it loses few needles because it is so fresh and we water it daily. At the end of December, we prop it up against the compost bin in the yard and it becomes a perch for the birds who visit our feeders. In the spring, we move it to the wooded area behind our house and it becomes a habitat for animals and lastly mulch for the ground. We can usually see the remnants of no more than 3 trees at a time.

    December 21, 2017

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