People have been bringing trees into their homes for symbolic reasons as far back as in ancient Egypt and Rome, with our Christian rendition evolving in Germany sometime in the 16th century. The types of trees used in homes have “branched out” ever since, especially with the advent of the artificial Christmas tree in 1930. Each year, more than 9.6 million artificial trees are sold in the United States alone, while tree farmers cut down and sell around 23 million trees annually.
Evergreens have served as symbols of health and hope across cultures for centuries upon centuries. Today, there are lots of ways for us to carry on this tradition in ways that celebrate life and light while honoring the creation from which those evergreens came.
Here are several ways you can have a greener Christmas tree:
Choose a Sustainable Christmas Tree Farm
There’s nothing like the fresh aroma of an evergreen in your home. If you’re like Clark Griswold and the millions of other families who prefer a freshly cut tree for your living room festivities, try to choose a tree farm that is engaging in sustainable farming practices.
Holiday Tree Farms, Inc. is a wholesale Christmas tree farm with a history of innovation and a passion for forward-thinking farming. Located in Oregon, Holiday Tree Farms has long been a leader in sustainability, combining a legacy of integrity with the application of the latest scientific research in tree production and environmental stewardship. They produce over one million trees each year on over 8,500 acres.
Christmas tree farms like Holiday Tree Farms benefit the local biodiversity and improve the air, water, and soil quality. They also pay attention to other factors that affect the local environment, following integrated pest management practices, as well as practicing good soil management with no-till planting, using cover crops between tree harvests, and planting buffer strips of perennials to prevent off-site runoff and soil loss while benefiting area pollinators and other wildlife (from Holiday Tree Farms).
If you want the real tree without the need to cut one down, you might be the perfect candidate for Rent-a-Tree. The London Christmas Tree Rental and, on this side of the pond, the Rent a Living Christmas Tree in San Francisco, offers customers the option to rent a fresh, potted, and trimmed living tree. Customers can rent different sized trees in various species for their homes. Some rental places require you to pick up your tree while others will deliver and pick it up before and after the season for you. Once the trees outgrow their jobs, they are retired from service and planted. Renting a live tree reduces the number of trees dropped in landfills each year while continuing to provide the same environmental benefits (and delights).
Create an Alternative “Tree”
Back when Christians started to adopt the Christmas tree as part of our faith tradition, there were occasions when wood was scarce, so people would build pyramids of wood and decorate them with evergreens and candles.
Today, some folks are carrying on that tradition by erecting alternative trees. Brightly lit stacks of books, decorated ladders, trees created from ribbons and bows pinned to the wall, or a pyramid of presents in the shape of a tree are just some of the piles of possibilities.
You can even upcycle wood scraps and products to make trees from wood pallets, driftwood, fallen branches, twigs, snippets of evergreen boughs, or lumber scraps. Rural Sprout has these and more ideas for alternative trees of all shapes and sizes.
Use and Reuse Your Artificial Tree
If you’re feeling a little guilty about having an artificial tree (like I am), just keep using it. It isn’t all bad. According to a study done by the American Christmas Tree Association, it takes “10 years of use before a fake tree becomes better for the environment than a real one, at least in terms of carbon emissions.” We already have the tree. We might as well use it as long as we can.
Back before I became all crunchy and concerned about creation all the time, I loved the idea of our pre-lit fake tree… until several years into its pre-littedness, the pre-lit bulbs failed.
Harrumph. It was nearly impossible to remove all of the original lights, but with a little work and a lot of scratches on my super dry skin, the task was complete, and we were able to wrap some brightly lit, colored strands around it to keep using the beast of a tree a while longer.
Let this be a lesson to you about pre-lit trees. You’re welcome.
Anyway, the key here is that if you’re going to go the fake tree route, make good use of that plastic masterpiece for as long as you can. Once the tree starts dropping needles—the very thing you were trying to avoid by getting an artificial one in the first place—it might be time to find another use for it.
Donate Artificial Trees for Reuse and Repurposing
If you are ready to upgrade from a fake tree to a different Christmas tree, there are all kinds of places and ways to stretch out the lifespan of your old one first. Consider donating your tree to an area nonprofit. Groups like Donna’s Christmas Trees collect trees, repurpose them, and give them to families and organizations in need.
If you’re crafty (which I am not), you can take the best parts of your artificial tree and make some of those alternative trees mentioned above, or repurpose branches into wreaths, garland, table decorations, centerpieces, and more.
Dispose of Your Tree Responsibly
Whatever kind of tree you choose, when it has reached its final days, look for places to dispose of your tree responsibly. Contact your local recycling and trash companies to find out if they will recycle artificial trees and what you need to do to make it ready for pickup.
Rather than trash your real tree, many areas will turn it into mulch, incorporate it into compost, turn it into firewood, and more.
For more ways to dispose of your Christmas tree (and other tidying up tips), check out “Best Tips for Christmas Clean-Up.”