Christmas trees in the United States are a big deal. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 25-30 million are sold every year. Many environmentalists cringe at this thought, but there are lots of options for making this once-a-year practice more sustainable.
Rent a Tree!
Yes, you read that right. Find a local business that grows live potted trees, delivers them to your doorstep, and then picks them up after Christmas. These trees are less of a fire hazard, help your indoor air quality, and drop less of those annoying pine needles everywhere.
Feeling attached to your tree? Don’t worry. Hug away. And, you can rent the same one year after year.
Start a Personal Forest?
Okay, so you’re ready to commit? Then this option might be right for you: you can purchase a live tree with root ball intact. After Christmas, remove the decorations and give the tree a new life outside in your yard or in a nearby forest. You might also consider a non-traditional option, like a fruit tree or other plant that might better compliment your space.
Here’s some guidance around tree planting.
No, I Like the Tradition of a Cut Tree.
That’s okay! As these trees grow on the farm, they release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. You can opt to cut one yourself on National Forest land. The US Forest Service guidelines help ensure that you remove trees in a responsible manner that may even benefit the forest.
Or, visit your local tree farm! Christmas tree farms provide around 100,000 jobs, which is something you can feel good about. Choose organic where you can, so you’re not exposing the environment or your home to toxic chemicals.
After Christmas, make sure to recycle your cut tree at one of 4,000 recycling centers across the country, where it can be turned into mulch or otherwise used in conservation and restoration efforts. Many towns have local pick up service as well.
The Great Christmas Tree Debate: Fake or Real, which is Best?
You might notice that we didn’t include artificial trees in our list of sustainable options.
There are many reasons for this. Artificial trees are made from petroleum-based products and many contain chemicals that are harmful during production, in your home, and after they’re discarded. 85 percent of these trees are imported from China, so their carbon footprint is quite large. And, while many point to the long-life of these trees, consumers only keep them for an average of 6 years before they are sent to spend eternity in a landfill, where they have many negative impacts. If you’re interested in an artificial tree, see if you can rescue a used one!
Why do we support real Christmas trees as a more environmental option? Well, their climate impact is one major reason. Like all plants, Christmas trees grow by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air; this carbon makes up around half of the tree’s dry weight. So, these trees spend their average lifespan of 7 years providing this service, and they are ultimately biodegradable. When you buy a real Christmas tree from a farm, it’s a crop grown specifically for this purpose, oftentimes on soil that can’t support other agriculture. And, while it’s growing, it may be preserving green space and habitats.
Research shows that the amount of carbon dioxide released from an artificial tree’s life cycle is around 18 pounds per year (based on its average 6 years of use), whereas a real tree releases around 7 pounds (if the tree is incinerated after use).
Note that when a tree is burned or otherwise allowed to decompose, the tree’s carbon is released back into the air—a major reason why we advocate for real trees that live past the holiday season.
Bonus, there IS a Regenerative Option!
Check out this Christmas tree farm that uses regenerative methods. These farmers are coppicing trees to produce a new Christmas tree every decade on rootstocks that have been around since the 1950s! Less disturbance of the soils means more carbon sequestered or drawn out of the atmosphere, so you can feel great about the climate benefits of this option. This is our #1 recommendation for the greenest possible Christmas trees, but only those near the Massachusetts farm may really be able to benefit.