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What’s the Greenest Christmas Tree of All?

By Kelsey Abbott |

Is there such a thing as an eco-friendly Christmas tree? Find out how the traditional choices stack up and what you can do to minimize your tree's carbon footprint.

Originally Published: 12/01/09

I confess: I LOVE Christmas trees. I love the smell. I love the feel of the branches. I love the novelty of having a big tree in my living room for a few weeks. But I'll admit, the tree in my house isn't doing what trees are supposed to do. It isn't providing habitat to critters or absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere or preventing soil from eroding. It's just a big decoration-and I love it.

Of course, I feel incredibly guilty about my annual eco-sin and so I set out to discover the greenest Christmas tree of all. Read on to find out how the traditional choices stack up:

  1. Live Trees
    A live tree is just that-a living tree in a pot.

    Pros: Once you're done with the tree you can plant it outside. In some areas, like Portland, Oregon, and San Diego, California, you can "rent" a live tree. The company will deliver the tree to your home before the holidays and pick it up afterwards. The used trees will be planted in parks, school grounds, or in areas ravaged by wildfires.

    Cons: Live fir trees aren't designed to live inside heated homes, so keeping a live tree alive may be difficult. Once your tree survives the holidays, you'll have to plant it. If the ground is frozen or you don't have a yard, this could present some issues. Also, because live trees come with roots, their trunks are much longer than those of cut trees. Finally, live trees tend to be more expensive than cut trees.

  2. Cut Your Own Tree
    Selecting and cutting your own tree is a great family tradition-or just a great holiday activity.

    Pros: By choosing your own tree, you can choose where it comes from. Ideally, you want to select a local tree farm so you can reduce your tree's carbon footprint and save on fuel. If possible, select an organic or low-spray tree farm to reduce pesticide usage on both the trees and the local water supply.

    Cons: When you cut down a tree, you permanently remove it from the ecosystem. That means that your tree will no longer be providing a habitat for animals, it won't absorb CO2 from our environment and the roots of your tree won't help stabilize the soil. But all of the trees on a tree farm are sustainably harvested, so another tree will be taking your tree's place in just a couple years.

  3. Pre-cut Trees
    Pre-cut trees are certainly the easiest trees to find during the holiday season.

    Pros: Most pre-cut Christmas trees come from Christmas tree farms, which are designed to produce trees annually. In other words, they're sustainable.

    Cons: Like cutting your own tree, choosing a pre-cut tree means that you're removing a tree from an ecosystem and preventing it from doing its natural tree duties. Most pre-cut trees come from farms that use pesticides and they are typically grown and trucked in from all over the place, so their carbon footprints tend to be high.

  4. Artificial Trees
    Artificial trees come in every price range, from under $50 to more than $1,000.

    Pros: Artificial trees can be used year after year, saving you fuel and the subsequent carbon footprint of going to pick out a new tree each year.

    Cons: Fake trees are made of PVC, a toxic petroleum product with a huge carbon footprint. Most fake trees are made in China, giving them an even bigger carbon footprint. When artificial trees do finally reach the end of their lives, they must go into a landfill because they are neither biodegradable nor recyclable.

Skipping a tree altogether might not be an option for you, so consider non-traditional alternatives. For instance, decorate an indoor houseplant or an outdoor tree. Better yet, use recycled materials like aluminum cans or baby food jars to create your own tree.

If you get an artificial tree, try to find one made in the U.S. to minimize the tree's carbon footprint, and if you get a live tree, be sure to recycle or compost it after the holiday.

How do you make sure your Christmas tree is environmentally-friendly? Share your tips below!

Share with Your Friends & Family
  • Michele S. 3 months ago
    For those in the New Jersey area, the Raptor Trust in Millington accepts old artificial Christmas trees (free of lights, decorative spray, tinsel or decorations) for use in their bird enclosures: http://theraptortrust.org/donate/
  • Gina L. 3 months ago
    One more good thing about buying an artificial tree is to re purpose the branches and pole. There are many Christmas projects you can make from the branches. The main shaft can be used for a number of household or other projects. You can also recycle the main metal pole.
  • Dona E. 4 months ago
    We now have a sweet cat who eats anything that looks like a plant, even silk fake spider or ivy plants! She tried to eat the needles right off the branches her first year and we had to keep the tree in a room with the door closed that year. So, all the Christmas ornaments the following years have gone on our "compromise trees". We put many of our favorite ornaments and new led lights on our 2 HUTCHES!! They were once were pine trees! And no breakage now. The old lights go outside on the house, and the birds enjoy the extra heat, especially when they eat their evening meal at the feeders right next to the lights!The old glass ornaments fomr the 1950s from my husband's family look beautiful hanging from the many cup hooks deep inside the shelves (for safety) yet shine from the lights. Magic!
  • Connie F. 1 year ago
    I bought an artificial tree 15 years ago and plan to use it for many more years.
  • Linda W. 1 year ago
    I know this is somewhat controversial, but we bought an artificial tree 30 years ago, and just donated it to a community college for seasonal displays, and it still looked great! We currently use a very small tree, also artificial, for our small home, and we love it! It's all about the pretty lights and decorations anyway!
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