What's the Most Sustainable Way to Have a Christmas Tree?

How to avoid toxic holiday chemis-tree

By Jessian Choy

November 29, 2019

Photo by Johnrob

Q: Is it more sustainable to buy a real Christmas tree or reuse an artificial one? My family has always used the same artificial tree. I used to assume it was more environmentally friendly since it was reusable, but now I realize that some of the materials may contain harmful toxic chemicals. Also, wouldn't commercially farmed Christmas trees absorb more CO2 during their lifetimes as opposed to other crops?

—Coral in Maryville, Tennessee

A: Yes, farmed Christmas trees store carbon. But it’s complicated: According to one study, driving 10 miles each way to get a tree offsets the carbon it sequesters. Also, some are sprayed with pesticides. Fake plastic trees are not recyclable, and some of their labels say to avoid inhaling toxic lead dust from the tree’s vinyl. Now that’s some toxic chemis-tree!

Looking to avoid toxic holidays? Studies show that what makes us happy are good relationships and volunteering. Healthy communication can’t hurt too. So why not make a tree out of self-help books? Mine would be 100 used copies of Unf*ck Your Brain, because I’m subtle! 

If your family doesn’t need self-help books, then consider adopting a tree from Friends of the Urban Forest. The organization plants trees in underserved neighborhoods. Or buy potted, native, locally grown, organic trees that won’t die in warm homes, so no pine or fir. The point is to keep your tree alive so you can plant it. Go to sc.org/fir-real for tips.

If you really need a single-use tree, at least buy cut, locally grown, organic trees, such as those recommended by Beyond Pesticides (sc.org/organic-xmas-trees). Later, you can feed them to rescued goats or donkeys at animal sanctuaries. Or find out where to recycle your tree at Earth911.

Now let's talk about the forest and not just the trees: Why cut trees if you don’t have to, and then put gifts wrapped with dead trees under them? Maybe give gifts people need, like plastic-free deodorant. Instead of buying ornaments, decorate with what might be the only vegan, certified 98 percent USDA biobased petroleum-free floss with reusable shiny dispensers called FlossPot Gold by KMH Touches. Better yet, give the gift of bodywork like Somatic Experiencing that can heal emotional and physical trauma. It might be even more effective than 100 self-help books. Ask me about how that might create a more sustainable world!