Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree...
It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of holiday traditions and not think about the impact those traditions might be having on the environment. Christmas trees are an obvious example we're frequently asked about. Americans cut down 15,094,678 Christmas trees in 2017, according to the most recent year of data from the USDA. That's a lot of trees!
It Might Not Be as Bad as You Think
Before you feel too guilty about this beloved holiday tradition, know that most of these trees came from Christmas tree farms, which typically operate in inherently sustainable ways. Certain sections are open for harvesting in a particular season, to be replanted afterwards, and a different patch matures the following season, as part of a rotating cycle. All the while the overall land is primarily used for trees, which also create habitats for wildlife. When the holidays pass, the trees can be mulched, composted, or eaten by goats!
Of course there are also unsustainable farms, or trees cut from primary forests rather than farms, and that's not good. This is where you can be a conscientious consumer. If you really want a tree in your house, find a local tree farm where you can see exactly where the trees are grown and ask the owner how they manage their operations. This is better than buying a plastic tree when you weigh the various pros and cons of carbon emissions and waste.
What About Artificial Trees? Are They More Sustainable?
Yes...and no. You have to keep in mind that artificial Christmas trees are generally made from plastic. And the making of said plastic causes carbon emissions. So if you truly want to make that fake tree "sustainable" you'd need to plan on using it for a long time.
A 5 foot Christmas tree made from plastic can have a carbon footprint up to 88 pounds of CO2. That is more than 10 times the amount of disposing a real Christmas tree. So to be sure that your artificial tree is sustainable you need to plan on having it for at least 10 years as a replacement for real trees in order for it to have a lower environmental impact than a responsibly disposed natural tree. Hopefully it is built to last, as a lot of plastic products are not.
The Most Sustainable Choice
We're certainly not here to say Bah humbug to any beloved holiday traditions! But if we're speaking in purely objective terms when it comes to sustainability, then the most eco-friendly option would be to skip the indoor trees and plant some real ones out in nature, where they belong. You can always get a houseplant and put a little ornament on it 😁🌿
The "get one, plant one" approach is also very popular if you want to take an extra step for sustainability. If you bring home a tree, plant one or more with us to benefit nature. You’ll even get a festive tree certificate. Take it a step further and plant trees for the whole family!
We plant trees on 4 continents around the world. Want to choose where yours are planted?
by Diana Chaplin
Canopy Director & Eco-Storyteller