How To Choose An Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree
Every year when the Christmas holiday comes around the conversation of Christmas trees and how to choose the most eco-friendly Christmas tree inevitably comes up. While there are A LOT of opinions on Christmas trees in the sustainability community, I thought that I would take a slightly different approach to addressing this topic then the usual negative rhetoric.
History Of Christmas Trees
Before we get into whether you should or shouldn’t buy a Christmas tree to celebrate the holidays I thought I would do a little overview of the history of why we buy Christmas trees to celebrate the Christmas holiday in the first place.
While Christmas trees are most commonly associated with Christianity and the Christmas holiday, even before Christmas trees became associated with Christmas, evergreen plants that remained green all year round were celebrated and believed in many countries to keep evil spirts and illness away.
In the Northern hemisphere, the winter solstice was also a day that many ancient cultures celebrated as it symbolized the shortest day and longest night of the year. This day was important because it meant that moving forward the sun god would begin to gain strength, and evergreen plants were a symbol of hope for all the green plants that would return with the Spring. I’m not going to lie, living in Vermont I think most of us kind of feel the same way still today.
It is thought that the actual tradition of bringing an evergreen Christmas tree into the home was first started in Germany in the 16th century when Christians brought decorated trees into their home to celebrate the Christmas season. Some would also forgo a tree and would build wooden Christmas pyramids in their homes that they would then decorate with evergreens and candles, and most early Christmas decorations were actually made from edible objects like gingerbread and apples.
Something that I found interesting when researching the history of Christmas trees is that many early Christmas trees were hung upside down from the ceiling, which was something we saw on our recent trip to Quebec!
But Christmas trees didn’t become popular in America until the early 20th century when American’s began to bring trees into their homes and would decorate them mostly with homemade ornaments. From then on the tradition of the Christmas tree took off throughout Christian households and today is a tradition that many families partake in regardless of religious preference.
how nature gives us hope
Reading about the history of our beloved Christmas tree and the evergreen winter plants that would give ancient civilizations so much hope made me realize that whether we realize it or not, the evergreen trees that we love today continue to be a sign of hope. They are that spot of life in a sea of winter snow, and the Christmas tree is as much a symbol of love, family, and faith as it is a sign for celebrating nature and the world around us.
sustainability and christmas trees
Now that we have gone over the background of Christmas trees let’s get into the conversation about sustainability when it comes to Christmas trees. Since I always find statistics to be helpful in these conversations let’s start with what the Christmas tree industry really looks like and the positive and negative impact it may be making.
Christmas Trees are grown in all 50 states. Yes even Hawaii. This means that if you want to purchase a Christmas tree you should be able to do so right within your own state.
There are roughly 350,000 acres of Christmas trees being grown in the United States and more than 15,000 farms that employ over 100,000 people either full-time or part-time.
There are 25-30 million real Christmas Trees sold in the U.S. every year, and 350 million Christmas Trees are currently growing on Christmas Tree farms in the U.S. alone, all planted by small farmers.
Christmas trees benefit the environment by sequestering carbon and emitting oxygen, and are often grown on soil that could not support other food crops.
Christmas trees are grown on farms like all other agricultural crops and are planted, grown, and harvested in a renewable fashion. To ensure the viability of a Christmas farm, all growers will plant 1-3 new trees for every tree that is harvested.
Christmas Trees are 100% recyclable. Because Christmas trees can biodegrade they can easily be recycled for mulch and compost after they are used.
Overall the research looking at the impact of Christmas trees on the environment is in favor of the real Christmas tree, and scientists have stated that there is no more harm being done to the environment when cutting down a Christmas tree than any other agricultural crop. Because Christmas trees are just that, an agricultural product, they are cut and replanted just like any other crop and in the process sequester carbon, produce oxygen, and provide green space for people to enjoy (especially during the holiday season).
While there are options to purchase live Christmas trees that come potted and can be replanted, this option isn’t necessarily as accessible as purchasing a cut real Christmas tree is, and still isn’t necessarily better or worse than buying a Christmas tree that was cut for the season.
What About Artificial Christmas Trees
While some people believe that artificial Christmas trees are better for the environment because they can be reused year after year, the truth is that real Christmas trees still are better for the environment. This is because artificial trees are primarily manufactured in Asia from plastic and metal, and are then shipped around the world to the homes of people who purchase them.
After only six to ten years most artificial Christmas trees end up in landfills where they will remains for centuries since the materials are not recyclable or biodegradable. Not to mention that there really isn’t the option to support local when buying an artificial Christmas tree, so the consensus is pretty clear — opt for the real thing.
How To Make A Positive Impact With Your Christmas Tree
When it comes to purchasing your Christmas tree I would recommend opting for a real Christmas tree and ideally look for one that was grown close to home. Since Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states you should be able to research a farm in your area, or a seller who sources its trees from your state or region.
This year we went to a local farm here in Vermont to cut down our tree and it was such a wonderful experience. The farm uses sustainable growing practices and plants a minimum of one tree (usually more) for every tree that is cut, and I loved every moment of wandering around this forest of Christmas trees looking for the perfect one to bring into our home.
When it comes to my choice to buy a Christmas tree, I personally feel comfortable supporting the Christmas tree growers here in our beautiful state, and also feel comfortable with the impact I am leaving on the planet by purchasing a tree from a small-business owner right in my community. I love that there are people who have chosen to grow trees and make little kids and families happy each holiday season with their magical Christmas tree farms.
What To Do With Your Tree After The Holidays
If you are going to purchase a Christmas tree I would highly encourage that you look into how you want to dispose of it afterwards. Many farms and cities actually have tree recycling programs that will take your Christmas trees back after the season to process for mulch on the farm. So rather than throwing your tree into the garbage see what you can do to recycle your tree.
I also love the idea of choosing to plant a tree each year that you buy one for Christmas. I think that this could be a fun thing to do on your property at home if you have the space, or you could plant a tree through many of the tree planting non-profits out there to donate to. One Tree Planted is an amazing non-profit that fights deforestation and would be great to donate to if you would like to personally add a tree back to the earth to replace your Christmas tree.
And remember that while small choices do matter and can really add up, your entire environmental impact does not come down to what kind of Christmas tree you choose. I truly believe that we need to stop narrowing in on such specific topics when we discuss our environmental impact and instead address the big elephant in the room, which are our daily choices and behaviors and the policies and companies that are making a more sustainable lifestyle so much harder than it needs to be.
So as far as I am concerned the holidays are a wonderful season and you should go ahead and enjoy your Christmas tree that is rooted in so much faith, love, and tradition.