Pine, Fir, Or PVC: What’s The Most Sustainable Christmas Tree?
But the most important question of all might be: how do you make a Christmas tree eco-friendly?
Many synthetic options are made from harmful plastics that are hard to recycle.
A real tree may seem like a better alternative, but they can be damaging without proper disposal and sustainable sourcing.
But don’t hit the eggnog just yet.
We want to keep you in good holiday spirits, so we compiled everything you need to know about sustainable Christmas trees, what to look for, what to avoid, and how to dispose of them.
1. What Is The Most Sustainable Christmas Tree?
What is more sustainable: fake or real Christmas trees?
Are Artificial Christmas Trees Sustainable?
A 6.5ft synthetic Christmas tree can produce around 40kg of GHG emissions—which is more than double that of a real tree that spends its glory days in a landfill.
The majority of the carbon footprint comes from manufacturing.
Most fake Christmas trees are made from the type of plastic known as polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. It’s made from oil and produces lots of harmful chemicals during manufacturing. The worst part is that PVC is rarely recycled and ends up in landfills.
Fake trees also produce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and cardboard or plastic packaging waste.
This means if you’re looking for an eco-friendly fake Christmas tree, you’ll need to branch out and open your mind to different aesthetics and builds (hint: we’ll give you some options later).
Are Real Christmas Trees Sustainable?
So what about a sustainable real Christmas tree? Does that exist?
Real trees are typically fir and a crop like any vegetable you might put in a salad. There are several sustainable Christmas tree farms across the United States, but most come from Oregon and North Carolina.
An average 6–7 foot tree can take under a decade to mature and have a positive environmental impact, like cleaning the air and providing habitats for wildlife.
However, not all eco-friendly Christmas trees are created equally, and you’ll want to ensure yours are sustainably sourced.
Shop from local businesses if you’re buying from an environmentally friendly Christmas tree farm. This will reduce carbon emissions from transportation.
Look for markings from the British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA) or the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). These are the marks of an eco Christmas tree with minimal fertilizers.
But what is the most eco-friendly Christmas tree?
Easy. One that stays alike after the holiday season is over.
Hunt down a potted living Christmas tree with roots and put your green thumb to use.
Sustainable potted Christmas trees can be reused and planted in the garden after the holiday season ends. They’re just about the best eco-friendly Christmas trees, as they clean the air, reduce transport emissions, and last multiple years.
Whatever you do, please don’t go out and cut down a Christmas tree in the wild yourself. This not only takes away some needed carbon sequestering power, but may disrupt an interlinked ecosystem and lead to biodiversity loss.
And why cut down a wild tree when only 30 million of the 350–500 million trees on US tree farms are harvested each year.
2. How Do You Make Christmas Trees Sustainable?
Whether you love living eco-friendly Christmas trees that smell of fresh pine or a six-foot wonder from the department store, you can use several sustainable Christmas tree ideas for a more ethical holiday season.
Continue To Use Your Old Tree
It’s true—the production and transportation of plastic trees do produce greenhouse gas emissions.
However, using an artificial tree as long as possible can lessen that environmental impact.
Depending on the materials, you might need to use an artificial Christmas tree for over 20 years to keep its environmental impact lower than purchasing a real tree each year.
So don’t feel bad if you have a plastic tree tucked away somewhere. Instead, keep it well maintained to last long enough to make the purchase worth it.
Rent An Environmentally Friendly Christmas Tree
If you want a real, festive Christmas tree each season but don’t want to harm the environment, consider rental options.
Sustainable Christmas tree rentals allow you to purchase and use a living tree for a set period. The time frame varies, but usually lasts from early December to early January.
The farm will replant and take care of the reusable Christmas trees when they’re returned. In fact, some locations will allow you to reserve the same tree for the next season.
Here are some websites offering this new sustainable alternative to Christmas trees. Some are locationally specific, but they’ll give you a place to start your search.
- Easy Treezy (10 points from us for the name)
- RentXmasTree (San Francisco Bay Area & Santa Cruz only)
- The Living Christmas Company (Southern California only)
Purchase Second Hand
Secondhand options can make a tremendously sustainable fake Christmas tree, especially if you don’t have nearby farms for the real thing.
Purchasing previously owned plastic trees prevents additional manufacturing, transportation, and packaging waste. It also ensures the artificial tree doesn’t rot in a landfill.
Decorate A Tree In The Yard
Take a peek into your front or backyard if you need eco-friendly Christmas tree alternatives.
If you have one, you can decorate a living tree outside. You don’t need to cut it down or bring it inside, either. Hang some lights, ornaments, or tinsel on it to spread holiday cheer.
It doesn’t have to be a fir or pine—you can decorate a cactus, palm tree, birch, or whatever is there.
Decorate A Plant
Have you heard of treeless Christmas trees?
Decorating a house plant makes a great sustainable alternative to Christmas trees. Like decorating a tree in the yard, you can simply hang your ornaments on it and give it a festive spirit.
If you have a biophilic design going on, you could decorate multiple plants across your home if you have enough ornaments. Or, if you have children or multiple people living in the house, they could get their plant and personalize it.
This is one of the most environmentally friendly Christmas trees, as you’re using what you already have and aren’t contributing any additional waste.
Make DIY Christmas Trees
One way you can make fake Christmas trees eco-friendly is to make them yourself (just like these DIY Christmas decorations). There are countless ideas and materials you can use.
How about a sustainable wooden Christmas tree made from old materials? Or what about a PVC-free Christmas tree made from those cardboard boxes you’ve been saving?
The ideas are endless. Use image boards like Pinterest or find groups online if you need inspiration.
Plus, you can utilize eco-friendly Christmas tree decorations and other sustainable Christmas decorations to tie the whole thing together.
Opt For Sustainable Materials
If you want an eco-friendly artificial tree, try to find Christmas trees made of recycled materials.
You may find some made of reclaimed metals, but so far recycled plastic Christmas trees have yet to catch on.
Fortunately, where we lack recycled synthetics, natural materials abound. You can now find many different wooden Christmas tree options from local craftsmen, or even at big box stores.
3. Sustainable Alternatives To Christmas Trees
Are there any environmentally friendly artificial Christmas trees?
You’re in luck if you’re in the market for a new Christmas tree and don’t have access to sustainable farms in your area. Here are a few shops to consider:
Welcome To The Woodshop
Welcome To The Woodshop makes high-quality, sustainable Christmas tree alternatives from their woodshop in Montgomery County, PA.
They utilize salvaged wood and other materials whenever possible.
Options like the Full Branch Wood Christmas Tree are available in multiple sizes and can be used for several years. When it reaches the end of its lifespan, you can simply donate it or recycle it.
LakaLuka is a jewelry and home decor shop that makes sustainable reusable Christmas trees.
Based out of Xánthi, Greece, the trees are made from wood and come in several designs.
The Alpine Fir, made from 100% natural birchwood, is a favorite for its easy-to-assemble and disassemble design. You can take the tree apart when the holiday season ends and store it flat underneath a bed or in a cupboard for next year.
Modern Pine Tree
If you’re looking for a non-plastic Christmas tree, look no further than Modern Pine Tree.
Each of the environmentally friendly artificial Christmas trees is made in Buffalo, New York. They use minimalist designs, perfect for hanging ornaments and decorations.
Many of the trees, like the Minimalist Birch, are made out of birch wood dowels with a plywood base. The wood is natural and unfinished, so it’s perfect if you’re seeking a non-toxic fake Christmas tree.
Primitive Millworks has some of the best eco-friendly artificial Christmas tree plans you can purchase.
This can be a fantastic option if you’re looking to put your craftsmanship to work or if you want to get the whole family involved. You will need to purchase the lumbar and materials, so be ready to put in a little elbow grease.
4. Environmentally Friendly Ways To Dispose Of A Christmas Tree
Eco-friendly Christmas tree ideas don’t stop at the materials or decorations; they also matter how you dispose of them.
Whether you have a fake tree or a Douglas Fir, several options are available.
Most artificial trees have a large carbon footprint, as they can’t be recycled and end up in landfills. But there are more sustainable options when it comes to getting rid of a plastic Christmas tree.
- Pass it on: First ask your friends or family to see if they need a new tree.
- Donate it to local charities: You can search your community for local charities or thrift shops that will take your used tree. This will hopefully give it a longer lifespan and mitigate its environmental harm.
- Sell it: Like donating, you can sell your secondhand tree via yardsale, craigslist, or social media. This will extend its lifespan and give it to someone who can use it longer.
- Recycle what you can: Many artificial trees have different components, like metal bases and arms. These parts may be recyclable, or you may be able to give them to junk yards for further processing. This can be an excellent way to salvage what you can.
- Repurpose it: If you have an artistic side, you can repurpose some of the different parts into new projects. For example, you might make other holiday decorations with the tree branches or the stand.
These disposal alternatives can take time, but are a much more sustainable option than dropping off your old tree at the landfill.
Real Christmas Trees
Are real Christmas trees sustainable?
How you recycle your living Christmas tree is the most significant factor that determines its environmental impact.
Real trees that end up in landfills can be detrimental to the environment. This is because the tree decomposes and produces methane gas, which is more harmful than CO2.
Instead, consult your local community and authorities to see if they have a collection service for living Christmas trees. They can shred the tree and spread the chips across gardens and parks, which is the most environmentally friendly option.
Some recycling centers and landfills will have a designated Christmas tree compost pile.
Or you can chop up the tree and use it as firewood if you have the option.
Alternatively, if you opt for a potted tree that you don’t have to return, you can continue growing it in your sustainable garden. This will extend its lifespan and ensure it has a negligible or positive impact on the environment.
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Final Thoughts On Eco-Friendly Christmas Trees
Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad! Happy Hanukkah!
No matter which of these you’ll be shouting this festive season, it’s easy to overlook sustainability this time of year with family gatherings, rowdy in-laws, and holiday shopping sprees for eco-friendly stocking stuffers.
But it’s vital to consider one of this season’s main attractions: the Christmas tree.
If you have a synthetic Christmas tree, keep using it. Otherwise, shop for sustainable Christmas trees from local growers and dispose of them properly.
You can use non-plastic materials or DIY options if you need an alternative. There are always secondhand and thrifted options as well.
But don’t forget the spirit of the Christmas season. Be sure to spend quality time with your loved one and show them you care through the ways you know best.
Do you know someone shopping for the perfect Christmas tree?
Send them this list of eco-friendly Christmas tree alternatives so they can have a green (green, green, green) Christmas.