Ho Ho Ho, Merry Consumer Season! Again we find ourselves in that happiest of times, when children look for flying reindeer and dream of sugarplums and the rest of us spend, spend, spend. Part of the rich tapestry of American holiday tradition is the Christmas tree, glowing with light and shiny baubles as the centerpiece of our seasonal décor. But does that tree fit in with a commitment to reducing our waste? It's worth considering the environmental impact of our choices when it comes to Christmas trees....

The ongoing debate between real and artificial trees has been a topic of discussion for quite some time. The artificial tree manufacturers assure us that making a six foot tree out of PLASTIC and pot metal IS environmentally sustainable if it is used a number of years (ranging from 6 to 20.) Either way you go, the decision between real and artificial trees often involves significant financial considerations. In 2016, consumers in America spent ONE BILLION dollars on trees, and about 70% of them were fake.Artificial tree manufacturers claim that creating a six-foot tree made of plastic and metal is environmentally sustainable if it is used for a number of years, typically ranging from 6 to 20 years. In fact, in 2016, consumers in the United States collectively spent a staggering one billion dollars on Christmas trees, with approximately 70% of them being artificial. Tip: avoid glittery or flocked artificial trees that shed unnecessary microplastics. 

fake vs real
A majority of real Christmas trees are cultivated on monoculture tree farms. While these farms do contribute to green spaces and assist in carbon absorption, they may also employ potentially harmful pesticides. The origin of the tree matters too; if it has to be transported a long distance to reach your home, it can significantly increase its carbon footprint. If you're lucky enough to live near an organic tree farm, that's pretty eco-conscious, but if it had to be trucked a few thousand miles to reach you, not so much. Most Christmas trees available in big-box stores originate from states like Oregon or North Carolina, leading to substantial transportation-related emissions. They also not 100% plastic-free option either, when you consider the plastic netting needed to transport them. Additionally, the cost of real cut trees continues to rise, with the average price ranging from $80-100 each year. 

real vs artificial: Christmas tree debate

End of Life

When it comes to the end of life for artificial and real Christmas trees, there's a notable contrast. Artificial trees, typically made of non-biodegradable materials *cough* PLASTIC, pose environmental challenges when disposed of, as they don't decompose naturally and can end up in landfills for centuries. On the other hand, real trees have a more eco-friendly end-of-life scenario IF disposed of properly. It's important to note, however, that each year, an estimated 25 million to 30 million live Christmas trees are purchased in the United States, with MILLIONS of those trees being thrown "away." When real trees end up in a landfill, they emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, so proper disposal is crucial. The most sustainable way to dispose of a real tree is through recycling programs or designated drop-off locations. This method allows for the trees to be chipped into mulch or composted, repurposing their organic materials. Recycling real trees not only reduces waste but also supports the environment by preventing methane emissions in landfills, promoting healthier soil, and contributing to sustainability efforts in local communities.

Other Alternatives

So, what are the practical options? Potted trees can be purchased from nurseries and later planted ($$$$), although it's important to note that keeping a living tree indoors for an extended period can be detrimental to its health. Alternatively, secondhand artificial trees are readily available at thrift stores, online resale platforms, and "Buy Nothing" Facebook groups. Opting for a pre-owned artificial tree can extend its useful life and reduce the demand for new ones. If you grow tired of your artificial tree you can donate it back and it goes on some more. Better yet, take it apart and use the branches for some crafting.

planted christmas trees
It's heartening to see that many people are opting for creative alternatives to the traditional Christmas tree. Some are crafting virtual trees using nothing more than a string of lights and a few tacks on a wall, while others are gathering fallen branches to create elegant floor vase displays. As for alternative choices, possibilities abound for those who enjoy DIY projects:

1. Decorate a House Plant: Create a simple and festive "Holiday" tree by hanging lightweight ornaments on you biggest houseplant.

christmas tree diy
2. DIY Repurposed Ladder Tree: Craft your own tree alternative with a repurposed ladder, complete with space below for presents.

3. Driftwood Christmas Tree: If you live near the beach and want to reduce plastic waste in our oceans, consider collecting driftwood during your next beach clean-up to create a plastic-free driftwood Christmas tree. Not near a beach? Forage for fallen sticks and branches.

christmas tree alternatives diy
In summary, the decision between real and artificial Christmas trees is not one-size-fits-all. There are multiple options available, so choose the one that aligns with your values. If you choose artificial, make a commitment to care for it responsibly for years to come. If you choose a real tree, make sure you dispose of it responsibly each year. Or get crafty and create your own kind of tree! The key is to be mindful of the choice you make, for a better future for all to enjoy.

Leave a comment