Real or Fake: The Christmas Tree Dilemma

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?

The argument of real vs. artificial has been around for a long time. Pretty much since somebody decided to make a tree out of goose feathers. Or aluminum pom poms, which is what I grew up with (and yes, I failed to be traumatized by the towering metal tree changing from red to blue to green, thank you very much.) 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.) This is a big money proposition no matter which way you decide to go. In 2016, consumers in America (I know that's a redundant statement) spent ONE BILLION dollars on trees, and about 70% of them were fake.

Most of the real trees are grown on monoculture tree farms. This means that although they do contribute to green space and digest carbon, they also may be sprayed with potentially harmful pesticides. 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 of the trees you find at big box stores come from Oregon or North Carolina. That can add a lot to that carbon footprint. And real cut trees get more expensive every year, the average last year was $75.

So what's realistic? Potted trees can be purchased from nurseries ($$$) and then planted, BUT keeping a living tree indoors for much more than a week will really hurt your new little friend. Artificial trees can be found everywhere secondhand –thrift stores, online second hand apps, and "Buy Nothing" Facebook groups. So you could keep that tree out of a landfill for a while longer and not contribute to them making another one just for you. 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.

I love that many people are foregoing the whole expensive ordeal and getting creative. From making a virtual tree with a string of lights and some tacks on a wall to gleaning some naturally fallen branches and putting them in a floor vase... human creativity know no bounds. I'm going to call my ficus the tree this year, with some LED lights and an ornament or two, because no one is coming to my house (thank you 2020.) As always I'm shooting for progress, not perfection. Next year I'll pull the old (7?8 years?) artificial out of the mothballs. Or maybe I'll love the ficus in holiday mode. We'll see.

Here are some ideas for some DIY Tree alternatives:

Branch hanging tree DIY

DIY foraged branch tree for a simple, yet festive wall hanging. Particularly great for small spaces!

A DIY repurposed ladder tree! With space to leave presents below, this is a simple do-it-yourself tree alternative.

Driftwood Christmas Tree

If you live by the beach, I bet you're extra committed to keeping plastic off our beaches and out of the ocean. On your next beach clean-up, pick up some driftwood to make your own plastic-free driftwood Christmas tree!

So as we've discussed, it is not a buy this not that kind of topic. There are MANY options, so choose what works for you, and if it's fake, keep and care for it forever!


Plastic-Free Living Blog by Me.Mother Earth may contain testimonials or reviews by contributor writers. These testimonials reflect the real ­life experiences and opinions of such users. However, the experiences are personal to those particular users, and may not necessarily be representative of all users of our products and/or services. We do not claim, and you should not assume, that all users will have the same experiences.

Me.Mother Earth was created by Amanda Runkle and Alberto Gomes who aren’t experts, just two Mother Earth loving humans who share their plastic-free tips and advice with the help of contributor writers. The various DIY & zero waste methods, suggestions, and tutorials on Me.Mother Earth are not error proof, they’re merely what worked for Amanda and Alberto along the way. Extra precautions and additional research are always advised and Me.Mother Earth cannot be held responsible for your personal health or the outcomes from any of the articles shared on our Blog.

Article written by: Trish Rodriguez, contributing writer.

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