As Christmas sidles closer, more people are preparing for the festive season. Twinkly lights are slung across houses, holiday recipes are tried and tested, and people are busy seeking the perfect gift for their loved one (or themselves, no judgment here). Christmas trees, however, can pose a problem.
People are more aware of their eco-footprint than ever before. Many want to do more for the planet and the holidays are no exception. In 2019, the number of Google searches for “sustainable Christmas trees” went up by 233 percent compared to the year before.
Tinsel-laden trees are often considered essential for the holidays, but is it sustainable to have one? If you’re looking for some sustainable alternatives to Christmas trees this year, read on.
Are Real or Fake Christmas Trees Better for the Environment?
For Christmas, most families either have a real tree (like spruce, pine, or fir) or an artificial plastic tree. But there’s still a lot of confusion around which is better for the environment. It’s easy to believe that fake trees are planet-friendly since they “save” a real tree from being cut down. However, artificial trees are typically made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Items made with PVC can take hundreds of years to break down.
Dr. John Kazer of the Carbon Trust told the Guardian that a 6.5ft artificial tree comes with a carbon footprint of around 40kg of greenhouse gas emissions. Around two-thirds of those emissions come from the manufacturing process itself. While another quarter comes from the industrial emissions produced during that process. The carbon footprint goes up once again during transportation, and many artificial trees are shipped to the U.S. from China.
Overall, the carbon footprint of fake trees is around double that of a real tree that ends up in a landfill. And it’s more than 10 times that of a real tree that is burnt.
Using a real tree for Christmas rather than fake could do more than sidestep high emissions. It might even help the planet. “At any one time in the UK there are about 100m trees growing with all the benefits that trees give to the environment. These trees would not be growing if it weren’t for the Christmas tree market,” Oliver Kenny of Yorkshire Christmas Trees told the Guardian.
If you already have an artificial tree, try to use it for as long as possible to reduce its environmental impact. An artificial tree would need to be re-used for at least 10 Christmases to keep its environmental impact lower than a real tree’s. And if you get a real tree, try to buy one that was grown locally.
What to Do With Your Tree After Christmas
When you’re finished using a tree, look for ways to dispose of it responsibly. Seven million Christmas trees are sent to landfill every year in the UK alone. Check your local authorities to see if they offer a collection service that takes real trees to be shredded. The resulting mulch can then be used in gardens and compost piles.
You could also keep the tree growing in a pot or plant it in the garden, which could actually result in negative emissions. Friends of the Earth’s tree campaigner Emi Murphy told the Guardian: “Buying a potted tree with roots lets you grow it outside and use it again year after year, reducing its environmental impact and costing you less. A living tree will carry on absorbing carbon from the atmosphere for years to come.”
9 Sustainable Alternatives to Christmas Trees
If you’re looking to go even greener this year (pun intended), check out these sustainable alternatives to Christmas trees. Happy holidays!
1. Rent a Tree
Maybe you can’t imagine a Christmas without that sweet evergreen scent wafting through the house. Thankfully, you don’t have to go without it. More and more companies allow you to rent a Christmas tree. They work like this: the company has hundreds or thousands of trees growing all year round for several years. Once the tree is big enough, it becomes available to rent. You can “hire” a tree for a few weeks. Workers carefully remove it from the ground, so it stays alive. When you’re done, the company will replant the tree and tend to it until next Christmas. Some businesses even let you choose the same tree each year.
Craig Tennock, Primrose Farm Vale Manager, told BBC: “We have about 250 to 300 families that have the same tree year after year. They actually name [the tree] so it’s almost like a family member to many of these people.” One man told BBC that his family had named their tree Colin.
2. Decorate a Plant or Tree You Already Have
Who says a Christmas tree has to be an evergreen conifer? Get creative with the plants that are already sharing your home with you. Drape tinsel over a houseplant’s leaves, place string lights around its pot, add a quirky tree topper – the sky’s the limit. You could even dress up a tree in your yard to spread the Christmas magic outside, too.
3. Ladder Christmas Tree
Reach new heights with your decorations this year with a ladder Christmas tree. To make this quirky design, you’ll need a wooden ladder, a few planks, and some paint. Decorate the finished product with ornaments and presents. Learn how to make it here.
4. Gin Bottle Christmas Tree
The viability of this tree really depends on how much gin you drink and how many empty bottles you’ve kept. An event planning company in the UK called Aunty Elsie’s went all out with its 2015 Christmas tree, using 400 gin bottles to make this impressive, glowing tree. If gin isn’t your thing, you could also use the empty bottles of another type of alcohol. Stick some lights inside the bottles or within the design to light up the room. Once Christmas is over, recycle the bottles or pack them away until next season.
5. Driftwood Christmas Tree
Get crafty this Christmas by trying your hand at making a driftwood tree. It costs next to nothing to make, provided you live nearby a beach or are willing to travel to one to collect the driftwood. You’ll not only get a great looking and unique Christmas tree; you’ll also get full bragging rights. “Wood” you give it a go? Learn how to make it here.
6. Buy Second Hand
If you’re not the DIY type (one glue gun accident too many can do that to a person), don’t be dismayed. Seek out a second-hand artificial tree from a friend, neighbor, or someone who lives locally who is ready to let theirs go. You aren’t creating any more waste and you’ll be saving that tree from ending up in a landfill this year.
7. Book Christmas Tree
If you’re a bookworm through and through, take your love for reading to a new level with this themed Christmas tree. Arrange some books in a circle on the floor. Stack more books on top of one another (over the gaps) and lean them inwards until your building resembles a triangle. Wrap some LED lights around your creation if you want to, and a tree-topper of your choosing. Learn how to make it here.
8. Wall Art Christmas Tree
It’s 2020, so Christmas trees don’t have to be trees anymore, and they also don’t have to be actual objects on the floor. This sustainable alternative to a Christmas tree puts to use all those old trinkets, stickers, earrings, magnets, decorations, and bits and bobs that you’ve been hoarding around for years. Plus you’ll have more room in the house for activities. We won’t blame you if you leave it up well after December has come and gone.
9. Wine Cork Christmas Tree
Nothing screams “I love wine” like a Christmas tree made out of wine corks. Impress (or worry) your friends by conquering this festive DIY project. Celebrate your eco-friendly achievement with a glass of, you know, soda or something. Learn how to make it here.
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