When you think of Christmas, you probably think of exchanging gifts, sharing delicious food with your family and the delight of a beautifully decorated Christmas tree.
But what probably doesn’t cross your mind is the impact that each aspect of Christmas can have on the environment.
Your Christmas tree, for example, is having some sort of carbon footprint whether it’s real, fake or potted. And the decorations you put on it? You guessed it, those aren’t innocent either.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to give up the centerpiece of your Christmas decor for the sake of sustainability.
Let’s take a look at the environmental impacts of all the different types of Christmas trees and decorations available to see how you can achieve a beautiful, yet eco-friendly Christmas tree this year.
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Real vs Fake Christmas Trees
It may seem obvious that a real tree is better than a fake Christmas tree from a sustainability point of view. But the reality is a little more complex.
Read on to find the most environmentally friendly Christmas tree options.
Fake Christmas Trees
A vast majority of these artificial trees are shipped to the U.S. from China, a journey that results in a lot of carbon emissions.
However, the environmental impacts don’t stop there. Artificial trees are most often made with a combination of PVC and steel and aren’t recyclable at their end of life.
Considering these Christmas trees are made of plastic and shipped across the world, is it even possible to have an eco-friendly artificial Christmas tree?
Well, kind of. The A.C.T.A, a group representing manufacturers, says the environmental impact is less than real trees if you reuse the artificial tree five or more times. However, many argue that anything made of oil that can’t be recycled can’t possibly be more sustainable than a real tree that absorbs carbon as it grows and is compostable at end of life.
All in all, if you already have an artificial tree, keep using it for as long as possible so you can keep it out of the landfill.
And if you don’t already have one? Opt for a real tree.
Real Christmas Trees
Real Christmas trees are primarily grown on Christmas tree farms, and aren’t cut down from large, wild forests, like some may think.
As the tree grows, it cleans the air, helps the soil, absorbs carbon emissions and provides a habitat for wildlife, all while being grown on land not suitable for other crops.
Once a tree is cut down for Christmas, another one to three trees are planted in its place, making for a sustainable, well-managed way to source an environmentally friendly Christmas tree.
And considering experts say restoring and protecting sustainably managed forests, including Christmas tree farms, is a vital part in addressing climate change, buying a real tree is a great way to get an eco Christmas tree.
Also, unlike artificial trees, real trees can be repurposed and composted at the end of its life. In the U.S, many states have tree return services that reuse donated Christmas trees in conservation projects or turn them into mulch.
When buying a real Christmas tree this year, it’s better to buy directly from the Xmas tree farm to avoid unnecessary transport, plastic sleeves around the tree, and to ensure your tree is as fresh as possible.
Other Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree Options
Besides the real vs fake debate, there are other options to consider when choosing your sustainable Christmas tree.
Buy a Potted Christmas Tree
If you have the space to store a tree in your garden year-round, why not buy a potted Xmas tree and enjoy it for years on end?
This option is only really suitable if you’re able and willing to care for it year round, as they can be fussy when potted. You’ll need to decide whether to plant it in your garden for the majority of the year, or whether to keep it potted.
Whichever option you choose, you can be assured in the knowledge that you’ve opted for one of the most environmentally friendly Christmas tree options available!
Rent a Xmas Tree
If you want a living Christmas tree, but don’t have the space to keep one year-round, try renting one.
One company, Rent A Living Christmas Tree, has a service that delivers a living, potted Christmas tree to your doorstep at the beginning of December.
Unlike other real trees, you return these potted ones after use and they are then replanted, so they can live longer and provide more environmental benefits throughout their lifetime.
Thrift a Christmas Tree
If a fake tree is the only option that is going to work for you, you can probably find one used.
Not only will it be cheaper than buying a new one, but buying one used doesn’t create any demand for new artificial trees, so all in all, it’s the most sustainable way to buy a fake tree.
DIY Christmas Trees
Making a DIY tree using items you already have at home is pretty much the closest you can get to having a completely zero waste Christmas tree.
Try stacking books creatively or assembling sticks and twigs into a tree shape and adorning them with lights and ornaments to get a tree-like effect.
This is a fun actively to get the kids involved with too – right from collecting sticks in the forest, to creating some DIY decorations together. Who knows, it may even become a favourite family tradition!
Zero Waste Christmas Tree Decorations
Now that you’ve sourced your eco-friendly Xmas tree, it’s time to get decorating. But unfortunately, traditional decorations leave a lot to be desired.
Most traditional decorations – ornaments, garlands, lights – are made either completely or partially with plastic. Often cheaply, and offshore. So to have a truly sustainable Christmas tree, you’ll need to look towards locally made or DIY plastic-free Christmas decorations.
Luckily, it’s just a matter of getting creative and thinking outside of the box – but don’t worry, that’s where we’re here to help create your perfect eco friendly xmas tree.
One of the most sustainable ways to source ornaments is to ask your family members if they have any they’re not using that you can have, or go to a local thrift store and buy some used.
After that, look for handcrafted ornaments made from local artisans out of materials like wood or glass. These are some of the most sustainable materials and can make for beautiful ornaments to hang on your eco Xmas tree.
You can also DIY your own using materials lying around your house. Get creative – make some out of paper, rosemary, cinnamon sticks, dried flowers and fruit, or any other items you have laying inside or outside of your home.
Zero Waste Garlands
There are a lot of beautiful, DIY garlands you can make to adorn your tree with. And it doesn’t have to be a difficult task.
Try stringing cranberry, popcorn, eucalyptus, flowers, dried citrus or pinecones together to create unique, biodegradable garlands to hang along your tree. You’ll be so glad you went the DIY route!
Eco Christmas Lights
Unfortunately, all Xmas lights have some element of e-waste that come with them that is hard to recycle, and potentially dangerous, at its end of life.
The most eco-friendly lights to use are the ones you already have at home. If one of the bulbs is out, try fixing it instead of replacing the whole string.
If you don’t have any lights already, or the ones you have are broken beyond repair, try to find some at a thrift store. If you can’t find any there and you have to buy some new, buy LEDs – as they use up to 80% less energy than traditional lights.
All in all, your most eco-friendly Christmas tree option is to get a real tree cut from a local farm, or potted by a local business, and decorate it with thrifted, handcrafted or biodegradable decorations.
It will be beautiful, festive, and sustainable, making it a win for everybody.
But remember, using what you or your family already has will always be the most sustainable Christmas tree option. That may mean putting up an artificial tree adorned with plastic-coated ornaments – and that’s totally ok too!
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