To Tree or Not to Tree

Christmas Trees

The perennial question of the season: Harvested tree or artificial? If you have a quality faux tree and you love it – use it! If a harvested tree is your tradition, it’s not as detrimental to the planet as you may fear. But keep in mind that the main environmental problem(s) with a fresh-cut tree for the holidays are: How the tree is discarded at the end of use and how far the tree must travel to land in your living room.

I am a die hard forest conservationist. It is imperative that all forests be protected and responsibly managed. The vast majority of Christmas Trees are harvested from tree farms, so as with any crop, if they are propagated organically, there isn’t a huge downside to harvesting them. The carbon emitted for transport is the real downside. Tree farms are a perennial crop. For every harvested tree, an average of 2 to 3 seedlings are planted. The best option for a cut tree is to find the nearest “cut your own” farm and transfer it yourself. If this is not possible, inquire about the origin of a pre-cut tree and choose the closest point of origin to where you live. Obviously, the farther a tree has to travel to market, the bigger the carbon footprint.

A Villanova University study concluded that beyond the oxygen tree farms provide, because the stumps are left in the ground, a significant amount of the carbon they sequester also remains buried. This is a good thing. Also, the land that tree farms inhabit is usually not suitable for other crops. So tree farms provide the additional service of preventing soil erosion. An estimated 300 million trees – 350,000 acres – are planted by Christmas-tree farms.


If you are going the artificial route, that plastic tree was most likely manufactured in China and will ultimately end up in a landfill. Artificial trees can’t be considered earth friendly unless they are utilized for at least 10 – 20 years. And even then, a PVC tree remains un-recyclable.

Harvested Christmas trees cease to be eco-positive if they are thrown out with regular trash and end up in a landfill or are incinerated. Plan to have a mulching/recycling solution for your tree before you commit to buying or cutting one. Most towns and cities offer a curbside tree collection period. Those trees are intended for mulch. Don’t leave your string lights on the tree or discard the tree wrapped in plastic. It will not be recycled and all will go to landfill. Click here for suggestions.

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 10.43.54 PMAs for said string lights, LED twinkle light options are readily available, so consider reducing energy use by investing in these lights. And don’t toss those non-working lights. Many big box stores have a string light recycling or trade-in options this time of the year. If you missed the trade-in window, hold on to them until next year.

live treeIf you have a yard that can handle a live, potted or balled tree, you might consider one as an option to a pre-cut tree. But be aware that live trees are tricky. There are some important stipulations that include keeping the root ball continually moist and keeping the tree away from direct heat sources – preferably in a window. Replant the tree outside as soon as possible. Nurseries advise replanting within 30 days of purchase and not to exceed 2 weeks indoors. If the ground is frozen, keep the root ball protected with straw, leaves and/or mulch until you can plant it successfully. Remember to consider the tree species that will best suit your area and climate.

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About the Author

Here at Jenny Green Jeans, by sharing success stories and easy-to- implement tips, I hope to inspire and empower you to continue to make sustainable choices in your life and watch how far the impact goes. Please contact me with any questions or suggestions you may have. Also visit the Green Design Goods store for my favorite environmentally sustainable products.

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  1.' Maria Luisa says:

    Excellent article!! Very enlightening!!

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