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Is an ‘Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree’ Even a Thing?

Mary Grace Garis

Mary Grace GarisDecember 9, 2019

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Photo: Getty Images/arinahabich

I side with Charlie Brown on the whole Real Versus Fake Christmas tree debate. Yes, he’s a blockhead, but I feel a sort of inauthentic cheapness when I glide down a Sears aisle of straight plastic; I neeed a little fresh friend that I can nurture and bedeck with glassblown goodies. However, I’m trying to make baby steps in sustainable living because not sure if you heard, but CLIMATE CHANGE. Merry Christmas, the World is Over (If You Want It)! So I’ve started to ruminate on my real tree habit: is there such thing as an eco-friendly Christmas tree?

When I posited this question among my colleagues, there was a ton of ping-ponging before firmly landing on “lol idk find out.” Fortunately, I was able to have Ashlee Piper, sustainability expert and author of Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet weigh in on the matter.

Fake Trees

Again, as a card-carrying member of the Real Trees Only club, I was quick to throw shade at plastic trees. After all, they’re plastic. Or aluminum. Or nylon. That said, Piper is in support of a fake tree as an eco-friendly option with a few caveats.

“Plastic holiday trees are a great eco option if you already have one, you’ll keep it in good repair and reuse for years to come, and/or you get one secondhand,” she says.

Confession: my eyebrows shot straight up at the last one, because all I could think was “PINK. VINTAGE. CHRISTMAS TREE.” The side of me that’s full Charlie Brown growled, but the side of me that would love that mid-century modern shit squeals. And buying used doesn’t have to stop at faux tannenbaums.

“Try NextDoor and Craigslist, as well as secondhand stores for holiday decor in general,” Piper says. “You’ll be surprised the luxe treasures you find.”

That doesn’t mean that it’s three cheers for plastic trees, the saviors of our planet. According to Piper, plastic trees become majorly problematic if you buy them brand new, treat them like disposable crap, and throw them out like trash. Get your fake tree mindfully, and if you do need to put it back into the holiday vortex after a few years, give it the opportunity to find a new home.

Fresh Trees

Once again, fresh trees can be eco-friendly so long as you take care of them within their lifetime. Or perhaps more specifically, at the end of their lifetime.

“Fresh trees are lovely for a seasonal touch, but they’re still chopping down a live tree for one-time decor,” Piper says. “They’re cool if you’re going to dispose of them properly; some composting services and municipalities will responsibly dispose of said trees.”

Okay, can breathe easy there! I compost my tree every year because I live across from a park with a tree composting area, like I’m no eco-heroine. Obviously, if you’re a natural born plant mom who can’t bear the thought of dragging the corpse of Douglas fir from a parking lot, there’s an even better option.

“Some options that give you the fresh, festive feel of a real tree without the waste are plantable or potted trees, which you can return to keep growing or grow in your own yard yourself,” Piper says.

For those of us without green thumbs or room to grow a small evergreen forest, let us posit just one more radical thought when it comes to having a very sustainable holiday.

Alterna-tree?

The truth is you don’t have to have a traditional Christmas tree as the focus of your household. But as someone who lives her entire life on Pinterest, I’ve seen everything from the lovely ornament-adorned pineapples of 2017 to sweet little succulent trees. There’s lots of room to play around!

“Holiday lights look awesome on a large branch, a big thriving houseplant, and even strung on the wall in the shape of a tree,” Piper says. “There’s so much we can all do to feel festive and celebratory that doesn’t involve creating waste, so get creative.”

In an interesting plot twist, then, keeping the season sustainability has less to do with some fight of Fresh or Fake and more to do with keeping options open and respecting your chosen centerpiece. So what makes an eco-friendly Christmas tree, Charlie Brown? Love. And proper disposal habits.

Want to make your tiny space festive this year? Here’s a few ways even little living situations can embrace the season. And here’s a little more decorating tips for all you plant ladies out there. 

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