Friday, December 23, 2011

Environmentally Friendly Alternatives to the Traditional Christmas Tree

There are over two billion Christians in the world and many in North America and Europe are following the time honoured tradition of decorating a Christmas tree. This Christmas millions of Christmas trees have been bought around the world. The question is what type of tree is best for the environment? Here is a review of some of the options available today.

Fresh Cut

Almost 30 million American households buy a fresh cut Christmas tree each year. Alhough Christmas trees are commonly grown on farms, they take six to 12 years to grow and often end up in landfills. These trees consume water and are often sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Their transportation also uses energy and contributes to soil erosion.

On the upside, the trees are renewable, they provide habitat for wild animals, absorb carbon dioxide, create oxygen, and provide jobs.

However, mass agriculture can be environmentally destructive, so if you decide on a fresh cut tree consider these tips.

• Try to buy an organic Christmas tree.
• Buy from smaller, local farms to reduce transportation miles and support a small, sustainable operation.
• Recycle your tree. Check your local municipality to see if there is Christmas tree recycling near you, or recycle it yourself.
• Don’t use tinsel or fake snow spray (they are hard to remove and make your tree ineligible for recycling).


Artificial trees are commonly made of plastic which is petroleum based. That means lots of carbon dioxide-creating energy is required to make and transport them. In addition they are difficult to recycle and the vast majority (75 percent) are made in China under less than favorable labor conditions.

Some of these trees also contain lead and most are made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) also known as vinyl, which is sometimes referred to as “the poison plastic.” PVC is dangerous to human health and the environment throughout its entire life cycle, at the factory, in our homes, and in the trash. PVCs contain contaminate like mercury, dioxins, and phthalates, which may pose irreversible lifelong health threats. When produced or burned, PVC plastic releases dioxins, which can cause cancer and harm the immune and reproductive systems.


The greenest form of Christmas tree is a live tree which can be replanted (as long as this is done in a week or less). Some use ornament trees—sculptural arboreal forms. Others decorate a houseplant like a giant rosemary bush.

One of the more innovative environmentally sensitive alternatives to a cut or artificial Christmas tree involves renting a live tree. This is a concept started in 1992 by companies like the Original Living Christmas Tree Company in Portland, Oregon. A tree rental company will deliver a living Christmas tree to your door which has been planted in a large pot. Once Christmas is over, it is returned to the company where it will be placed in a nursery or planted. This option is not only better for the environment it is often cost competitive with traditional Christmas trees.

People are increasingly looking for more environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional Christmas trees and some innovative businesses are responding to the burgeoning demand.

© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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