‘Tis the season to decorate for the holidays and for those who celebrate Christmas, a Christmas tree is an all-important holiday tradition. But which tree options are the most eco-friendly? Let’s take a look…
There’s really no beating around the Christmas bush. Artificial trees are an eco-disaster. Most contain lead and are made from PVC that disperses toxic dioxins during the manufacturing process. Most fake trees are manufactured in China where migrant workers earn a poor wage. While they are stored, they attract dust and mold which can be a problem for allergy sufferers when the tree is brought back out the following year. And they don’t last forever. Once artificial trees outlive (for lack of a better term) their usefulness they end up in a landfill where they will sit for eons leaching toxic chemicals into the ground water.
If you do choose an artificial tree, exercise caution around children and pets. The toxic materials can be especially dangerous for small children who may touch the tree and put their hands in their mouths or pets who may chew on the branches.
A comparative life cycle assessment of artificial vs natural Christmas trees conducted by Ellipsos, a Life Cycle Management consulting firm, found that the natural tree is a better option than the artificial tree, in particular with respect to impacts on climate change and resource depletion. Natural tree production has a positive impact on the environment because the trees sequester CO2 during the growth. The assessment also found that watering the trees only has marginal impacts. And many Christmas tree lots make use of land that would otherwise be vacant (e.g., under power lines) to grow their trees.
When selecting a cut tree, look for tree lots that buy from family farms using certified sustainable farming methods to grow Christmas trees. Santa & Sons, in Los Angeles (Sherman Oaks/Van Nuys area) does just that. They are a small Oregon family farm AND the owners of the tree lot that sells their trees in the San Fernando Valley. They are also members of the Coalition of Environmentally Conscious Growers, an organization formed for the purpose of certifying the environmental practices of Christmas tree farms through a rigorous auditing process to ensure that growers are conscious of the environment. You can look for the certified tag on Christmas trees at your local tree lot.
After the holidays, make sure your tree is recycled into mulch. Most city waste pickup services offer free tree pick-up after the holidays. They transport the trees to a recycling center where the trees are turned into mulch that is used for ground cover in parks or other city areas. If your waste management company doesn’t offer tree pick-up services, there are may local organizations where trees can be dropped off for recycling.
Buy a living tree.
A rosemary bush is a common potted tree sold around Christmas time – they smell great and you can cook with it after the holidays! Or select a larger, more traditional tree from your local nursery and keep it outside during the rest of the year, re-potting as necessary or planting it in your yard when it grows too large to bring inside for Christmas.
Rent a living tree.
If you are looking for a traditional tree but like the idea of a living tree, consider renting a tree. The Living Christmas Company, based in Southern California, allows customers to rent a living potted tree for the holidays. There is something incredibly uplifting about having a fresh-smelling live tree in your home rather than one that is dying and turning into a crispy mess.
Keep in mind that a potted tree can only stay indoors for about three weeks before it’s health begins to deteriorate so you’ll want to plan your rental time accordingly. During the rest of the year the trees are cared for in various lots around Southern California. Once a tree is too big to be rented any longer it is planted in the community as part of an Urban Reforestation Project. With delivery and pickup (using Bio Diesel trucks!), renting a tree is one of the most convenient and eco-friendly Christmas tree options.
Be creative! Re-purpose a cardboard box and cut out a tree. Or purchase a Christmas tree made from recycled cardboard. These options have punch-out ornaments that the kids can decorate. Build your own temporary tree with blocks or books…
Regardless of what type of Christmas tree you select, the conclusion of the Christmas Tree life cycle assessment reminds us that the impacts on the environment of any type of Christmas tree are negligible compared to other activities, such as car use.