Christmas Tree

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In a bid to go for a green Christmas, most families have been opting for a fake Christmas Tree. In 1990, about half of U.S. tree-displaying homes were putting up artificial trees. In 2002, that number had grown to roughly 60 percent. Purchases of real trees declined from 32 million in 2002 to 23.4 million in 2004, according to the US National Christmas Tree Association.

For several years now, people have been debating which is more green - a live tree or a fake tree for an eco friendly Christmas.


Why should I be aware of this?

  • Opting for a real tree involves cutting a tree for a mere two weeks of display time. The tree might have been sprinkled with pesticides. However, it can be replanted or recycled. It is generally grown at a tree farm which are reforested.
  • The carbon footprint of a fake tree is very large. Most of these trees have been outsourced from Asian countries. They cannot be recycled and is made of PVC and plastic which can clog the landfills.

The debate between which is more eco-friendly -- a live tree or a fake tree has been decided in favor of the live tree by environmentalists. That is because a faux tree from the department store is made using hundreds of chemicals, and it is eventually going to end up in a landfill.

How does this affect me?

A live tree

  • Creates Jobs -- Christmas tree farming is very labor intensive, by today's standards, remarkably so. Not only does this mean less equipment on the land but it generates lots of stable employment in rural areas.
  • It is environment friendly.
  • It might have been grown using fertilizers and pesticides.

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  • Tree farms grow the firs solely for the purpose of becoming Christmas trees, so you're not "robbing" from the forest.
  • There are organic live Christmas trees - trees that have not been exposed to any pesticides or other chemicals.
  • Some groups also advocate buying a potted tree that is still in soil and can be planted outdoors after the holidays. Since these trees do not last very long indoors, do not expect them to live long if you put it up at the beginning of green holiday season.
  • Once Christmas is over recycle the tree.
  • Most urban centers offer tree pick-up or drop-off services so the tree can be mulched and used for municipal gardens and parks.

Picking the right Christmas tree

  • If you can, do inspect the Christmas tree farm to ensure that it meets certain standards for managing wetlands, nutrients and pests. Water and soil conservation measures are reviewed and biodiversity and worker safety are also considered.
  • Check if the trees are organically grown. If they are not grown organically, check if measures to mitigate some of the environmental dangers of Christmas tree farming, such as excessive use of pesticides and contribution to soil erosion have been taken.

What to do with the tree after the holiday season is over?

  • Recycle it into compost. Some cities might collect tree and compost it, or you can do it yourself. A tree can be turned into mulch, too, so think about what are going to do when the snow melts.
  • Sink it in a pond. A tree can offer refuge to fish if you live on a private lake or have a pond. This is recommended if you are sure that the tree has not been treated with chemicals that could harm the aquatic ecosystem.
  • Plant it in the backyard. If you have got the space, getting a tree with roots and replanting it is obviously the most eco-friendly solution. But make sure you buy a species that will work with the soil type and climate at your house. Get advice on how to care for the plant while it is indoors and how to plant it after. The tree should only be indoors for a week.

Christmas tree and the environment

As Christmas trees take root, they preserve soil

  • Christmas trees are pruned by hand every summer, and this deposits large quantities of twigs and needles onto the ground. This combines with a level of grass and weeds that accumulate over the eight years or so that it takes a Christmas tree to grow.
  • Mature roots physically hold the soil against erosion, and later add more organic matter as the stumps and roots rot.
  • After a few years of growth the young trees help protect the ground from what is called impact erosion, which is a result of the heavy rainfall in Christmas tree producing areas.
  • When the trees get big enough, the shade they produce helps reduce soil evaporation, and offers refuge for a remarkable biodiversity of wildlife. Small birds probably get the most benefit, but small rodents and other mammals support populations of birds of prey. Deer are common and even elk are in some of the more remote fields, drawn to graze on some of their preferred foods that grow as weeds between the rows.
  • Christmas trees impact the environment by controlling runoff and changing the timing of the release of water from the soil in a beneficial way. Land with Christmas trees will more slowly release that water during the dry summer months, helping to sustain low stream flows and perhaps to some degree even recharge aquifers.

What can I do?

  • Go for alternative green Christmas tree.
  • For a natural look, try making your own tree of trimmed evergreen boughs, a storm-felled branch, or a piece of driftwood.
  • Replant the tree or donate it. A single tree can absorb more than one ton of carbon dioxide over its lifetime. Imagine how much CO2 could be absorbed if we all the trees were replanted.
  • If you buy a real Christmas tree, check that it has the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo, which guarantees it has been sustainably farmed.
  • Buy a small pot grown tree and plant it out after Christmas.
  • Switch from regular incandescent lights to LED (light emitting diode) lights. This will not only reduce you energy bill but also your carbon footprint.
  • Opt for street trees which can be replanted. Pines do not make the best street trees. Instead, they suggested hanging tinsel on a primrose, a Brisbane box tree or a fruitless olive tree.
  • Solar powered Christmas lights are also a great alternative.
  • You don't have to keep the lights on 24/7.
  • Make ornaments out of recycled materials
  • If you're going to buy ornaments, at least buy them from local craftspeople who use natural materials (such as wood or ceramics). That way, you are supporting the local economy and being planet-friendly at the same time.


  • Most artificial trees are manufactured in Korea, Taiwan or Hong Kong. Real trees are a renewable, recyclable resource.
  • Artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and metals.
  • For every real Christmas tree harvested, 2 to 3 seedlings are planted in its place. Each hectare provides the daily oxygen requirements of 45 people.
  • The first recorded reference to the Christmas tree dates back to the 16th century.
  • Until the mid-19th century, Christmas ornaments were entirely handmade. Families would get together and make ornaments from pine cones, pieces of cloth, wood carvings, fruit and berries.
  • If every American home were to switch to LED holiday lights, over $160 million would be saved in energy costs.
  • Famous Christmas trees that have already made the switch include the Christmas trees displayed at Rockefeller Plaza and on Capitol Hill in the US. Such lights use 90 percent less energy than they had previously.
  • Long before there was a Christmas, Egyptians brought green palm branches into their homes on the shortest day of the year in December as a symbol of life's triumph over death.
  • In the Middle Ages the Paradise tree, an evergreen hung with red apples, was the symbol of the feast of Adam and Eve held on December 24th.


  • Christmas tree facts

Online Resources

  • Ways to make recycled christmas trees
  • The Christmas Tree Crib Sheet: How To Pick, Set up, and Care For Your Tree