The “Green” Christmas Tree Dilemma: 10 Common Questions Answered (Sort Of)

by Daisy on 12/04/2008

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1. Doesn’t cutting down a tree go against environmental, eco-friendly practices?
Sounds logical, doesn’t it? Cutting down trees definitely has a cringe-factor for the green living community (–we aren’t called tree-huggers for nothing.) However, the consensus among even the most stalwart of environmentalists is leaning in the definite direction of the real tree. Read here for some of the reasoning. If you buy a real tree, choose a locally grown one when possible to reduce the impact of transporting the tree to your area.

2. I already have an artificial tree. I don’t want it to end up in a landfill just so I can buy a real tree.
If you already own an artificial tree and you don’t want to get a real one, just continue to use it. If you do decide to “go real” you may be able to donate it to an organization such as Goodwill or to a business or agency which could use your tree. Unfortunately, an artificial tree is considered unrecyclable. One offbeat solution has emerged in the 7,000 Evergreens project. This is a group which “plants” artificial trees as landscape (and, um, other things). Judge for yourself:

3. How about getting a live tree to plant outside later?
This can be a great solution for people who have a place to plant a new tree or know someone who does. Just make sure the one you select will grow well in your region and will fit the designated space at its mature height and width. See the list at the bottom of this post for some suggestions for the right species for your area. You can find good information on how to care for a live tree you plan on setting in the ground later here.
If you live in certain areas, live trees are actually available for rent.
Portland, OR
San Francisco, CA
New Zealand

4. What about pesticides and herbicides and artificial fertilizers used in the production of real trees?
This is a real environmental problem. The best way to reduce the health danger and environmental impact of agricultural chemicals is to purchase your tree from an organic grower or one which participates in a certification program that encourages environmentally responsible cultivation practices. Here you can read about the efforts being made to institute more planet-friendly tactics. These include integrated pest management, erosion control, and using less-toxic chemical controls. Here is a source of information that may help you find organic or environmentally-friendly trees in your area.

5. Aren’t real trees a fire hazard?
According to National Fire Protection Association data, only about one-tenth of 1 percent of house fires are the result of Christmas trees catching on fire. Use normal caution. Never leave a lit tree unattended and make sure all lights are in good condition and properly maintained and do not exceed the 3-strand limit. Don’t leave your tree lights on overnight. Purchase a freshly-cut tree and keep it well-watered. Still, if you are uncomfortable and worried, go without lights and keep the tree away from other possible ignition sources–there is enough holiday stress.

6. I want to save energy with the new LED lights. What do I do with my old ones?
You can realize an 80% energy savings with LED lighting for your holiday decoration. This company will accept your old lights, recycle all the parts which are recyclable, and give you a 15% discount on new lights. They even recycle the box you ship them in.

7. What about “green” ornaments?
Making your own from renewable or recycled materials will put you high up on Santa’s nice list.
So will purchasing handmade, free-trade ornaments like these from Eco-Artware
or these Recycled Orange Peel Ornaments.
These adorable gourd owls are fair trade.
But all those cost $$, so you can make your own with these natural ideas for an earth-friendly Christmas.
Family Fun Magazine has corraled a collection of arts and crafts for the holiday season, including ornaments for the kids to make.
And HowToMe has gathered up a list of natural ornaments to make at home without breaking the bank.
Need more? Check out One Pretty Thing for another selection homemade decorating ideas.

8. I’m allergic to Christmas trees. Does that mean I have to have an artificial one?
Not necessarily. If pollen is the problem, the hybrid Leyland Cypress, which has none, could be the answer. If dust and other particulates are the issue, some recommend giving your tree a good wash and letting it dry thoroughly before bringing the tree inside.
Artificial trees can also be the source of allergic reactions, particularly if they are dusty or moldy, or if you are sensitive to the outgassing chemicals from its manufacture.
If you or a loved one has allergies, you know they can be serious. Don’t take a chance if you still have concerns. The following link contains additional information about holiday allergies:

9. What do I do with a real tree after Christmas is over?
If your community has a tree recycling program, the simplest thing to do would be to remove all the tinsel, etc. and follow your community’s guidelines, whether that means putting it at the curb on a designated day or taking it to a central location for processing. Many cities grind and shred the trees for sale or free distribution of mulch or to use in public areas for paths, etc. Other programs use the trees for erosion control for coastal wetlands and dunes, for use in ponds and lakes to provide fish habitat, or even to form a path to guide snowmobiles. And this has to be the absolutely cutest way to dispose of a Christmas tree, ever (baby elephant at a zoo in Germany):

Don’t “flock” your tree–this renders it ineligible for most recycling programs.
Of course, you can recycle your own tree if you have a chipper, a very long-term compost area, an area in need of erosion control, or your own pond.
To locate the nearest tree recycling in your area go to or call 1-877-EARTH911.

10. How about no tree at all? They are expensive and a lot of trouble.
Another great option. If you decide you’d rather forgo the tree entirely, here are a few alternatives–a wire or brush tree, a bare branch decorated, even a decorated tumbleweed for the southwest Christmas spirit. Check out these suggestions.

Finally, if conditions in your area are unsuitable for both real and plastic varieties, you might consider something like this:

This is at the South Pole. Now THAT’S a Christmas Tree.

If you celebrate Christmas, what are you doing for a tree this year?

Here’s which live trees may prove hardy in certain US regions:

Balsam fir (Abies balsamea)
Fraser fir (Abies fraseri (Pursh) Poir.)
Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens Engelm.)
Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karsten)
White spruce (Picea glauca)
Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
White pine (Pinus strobes)
Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)
Austrian pine (Pinus nigra)

Mid-Atlantic region:
Fraser fir (Abies fraseri)
white pine (Pinus strobes)
Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)
Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana)

Southern region:
Leyland Cypress
Carolina Sapphire
Deodar Cedar
Virginia Pine
King William’s Pine
Eastern Redcedar

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