Sustainable Holidays: The Christmas Tree

With the holidays right around the corner, families across the country and the world are beginning to decorate their homes with lights, candy, poinsettias, and of course the Christmas tree. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

If you grew up in the United States or any other westernized country that largely celebrates Christmas or Hanukah, you might have found the holiday season one often filled with excess, and with excess comes waste. But fear not, you can still have most if not all of your traditions with a modern and more sustainable twist.

Right after thanksgiving and the start of December, families across the country and the world are beginning to decorate their homes with lights, candy, poinsettias, and of course the Christmas tree. Now, messing with this centerpiece of holiday tradition might be a bit sensitive for many people. I personally love a cut tree. They are easy to pick up, set up and take care of and they fill your home with a lovely pine aroma that just makes you feel like its Christmas time. Lets take a look at what kind of environmental impacts your tree choice can have this year before you buy a tree!

Plastic Trees:

At a glance, you might think that plastic trees are the most sustainable option for reuse every year. They don’t need to be watered and cared for and do not leave much at all to clean up or worry about after the holiday season has ended. However, most plastic trees are made with petroleum based plastics which makes them non renewable or recyclable and, if broken and discarded, they will either be taken to an incinerator where they will be burned and release more chemicals and greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere or they will be put into a landfill and will never biodegrade. Not to mention the trouble that the pre lit trees present, with the maintenance of fuse based light bulbs (if they are not LED) and the challenges that come with recycling such trees. Some local waste management will recycle or repurpose fake Christmas trees but most do not. (Check with your local waste management, the Town of Mansfield, does not have plastic Christmas trees.)

Side Note for Storrs locals: If you do have old Christmas lights, or lights that are broken, you can recycle your old incandescent string of lights by sending them to Holidayleds.com and you will receive a coupon good for 25% off any purchase of energy efficient LED Christmas lights. Go to http://www.holidayleds.com/holidayledscom_christmas_light_recycling_program or call 866-492-4330.

Live and Cut Trees:

This might seem like an unsustainable option but many tree farms are fairly responsible with their operations. Most Christmas tree production is local due to the fact that cut trees can’t travel very far, so sustaining local agriculture is definitely a plus. According to the USDA 1-3 saplings are planted for every tree that is harvested every year. It can take 7-15 years for most commercial pine trees to reach the ideal size (6-8”) but as long as they are replaced and the soil is maintained responsibly, live trees, cut or not are biodegradable, renewable, and help support air quality and carbon sequestering. (Taking carbon out of the air and putting it back into the earth.) Potted trees are also a great alternative, they make nice house plants in the off season and when they get too big, you can plant them on your property, beautifying you home and adding value. An increasing trend is also to rent a live tree so it can live out its life naturally in the forest after the holidays but this is not a very established business practice nation wide yet.

Other Alternatives:

One current trend to the waste associated with the holidays is making your own tree! There are a huge variety of trees you can make from dowel rods, plastic bags, old bottles and cans, you name it. If it can be formed into a cone and decorated with lights, you are sure to impress your guests with a future forward version of a classic holiday tradition. You can search for inspiration and even how to guides on Etsy or Pintrest. Now THAT, it a great way to keep green.


Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.wood@uconn.edu.