Plastic or real Christmas tree?
I plan on making this our yearly tradition of cutting down real Christmas trees. Growing up in a warm climate, we weren’t lucky enough to have a real Christmas tree. I have always remembered our Christmas tree coming from a box, that was stored in the attic until it was time for it to be used. To top it all off, we had scented pine hanging from the tree to misguide our smelling senses into believing the tree was a bona fide pine tree.
It was only 3 years ago (I know — totally absurd), that I went with my now husband-to-be, to a tree farm to cut down my very first pine tree.
There has been a long battle between environmentally-conscious folks on whether purchasing a plastic tree is better or worse for our environment.
The research team at Ellipsos has provided a definitive answer. In its study, the real tree emerges victorious! According to one of the articles I read, they state: In the most definitive study of the perennial real vs. fake question, an environmental consulting firm in Montreal found that an artificial tree would have to be reused for more than 20 years to be greener than buying a fresh-cut tree annually. The calculations included greenhouse gas emissions, use of resources and human health impacts.
“You’re not doing any harm by cutting down a Christmas tree. A lot of people think artificial is better because you’re preserving the life of a tree. But in this case, you’ve got a crop that’s being raised for that purpose.”
-Clint Springer, a botanist and professor of biology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
Have I had you convinced to use a real Christmas tree yet? I hope I have. Coming from someone who’s used artificial trees for Christmas for nearly 30 years, I must say that having an actual pine tree (without a chemically-induced fragrant pine scent to mask the smell of attic-stored-plastic) is pretty sweet.
There’s nothing like coming home to the fragrance of pine, infused with a touch of earth in your living room, during the Christmas season.
1) The easiest and most common way of disposing of an old Christmas tree is simply to haul it outside—cursing the needles accumulating all over your house—and leave it for someone to pick up. Some cities and towns will haul it away to be mulched, some simply throw it out. Being plant material, it’s among the least harmful possible things to dispose of. That said, the tough fibers of an evergreen can take quite awhile to decompose in a landfill. Google your city or town’s preference for how to leave trees on the curb: Most require you remove all decorations and many won’t take a tree if it’s in any sort of bag.
2) But usually, there are better options. Most cities have some kind of mulching facility. Take a look at New York City’s: There are dozens of places to drop off your tree, where it’ll be run through a wood chipper and turned into mulch. At most of these locations, you can even take home some mulch for free—a huge boon in cities where good, clean soil is a rarity. Christmas tree mulch is especially great for helping other trees stay warm through the cold winter. (This is presuming we have a cold winter this year. Or any winter at all? What’s going on with this weather?) If you have a way of turning your tree into chips yourself, by all means, do that. You’ll have fragrant, delightful evergreen chips to play with.
3) There are also private services you can call to come and personally remove a tree, though these can be pretty expensive, usually around $50.
4) Now let’s get into actually reusing your tree. If you have a yard, you can set up an old Christmas tree with some bird feeders and maybe some festive strings of popcorn, and you’ll find yourself with a pretty amazing and enormous bird playhouse. Just remember to remove anything birds or other wildlife can choke on, like tinsel. By the time the winter’s over, the tree will have dried out, and you’ll be able to easily break it apart by hand and throw out in a yard waste bag.
5) Some folks recommend tossing a tree into a pond, where it can provide a habitat for fish and other marine critters. We think this is a cool idea, with some caveats: Make sure your tree hasn’t been treated with any preservatives that can leach into the water, and check with your local authorities so they know you’re a friend of fish and not just chucking your garbage into water.
6) You could also see if your tree is needed anywhere nearby. This may sound vague and confusing, but trees are a natural barrier for erosion, and some places, especially near water, have found a use for them. The Jersey shore was in dire need of any kind of barrier after Hurricane Sandy, and the donations of old trees helped immeasurably.
7) If you have a chainsaw, saw off all the smaller branches of a Christmas tree and you’ll be left with a nicely manageable trunk. This Old House recommends sawing the trunk into two-inch-thick rounds, which can be used to line a garden bed. Or you could slice it even thinner and use the rounds as coasters—you might want to use some polyurethane or other coating to keep the sap from coming out.
Don’t ever chop up the wood from a Christmas tree and light it in your fireplace. Evergreens have high levels of creosote, which is basically tar, and can cause extremely dangerous smoke and buildup.
If you are still unresolved and need some ideas to ensure it will be environmental friendly, here are some other options:
Real Christmas trees
- Buy local
- Choose trees from farms that minimize (or do without) pesticides and herbicides
- Cut your own with a provincial permit, from lands that must be kept clear anyway. In many provinces, hydro right-of-ways have to be kept clear. This is a win-win way to meet that mandate.
Artificial Christmas trees
- Avoid PVCs — the grinchiest of plastics — that most artificial trees are made of. Not only are these hard on the environment, they’re bad for your health.
- Make it last 20 years!
Note: Watch for recycling options.
If you have the space, start a Christmas tree forest! How to care for a potted tree:
- Don’t keep the tree inside for more than a week (two max.)
- Water generously
- Place the tree outside in the yard until the spring thaw, then be plant it
Fellow Queen of Green Fran (with 20 years experience planting living Christmas trees) says:
“A living tree should never be in the house for longer than 7 days. Keep it in an enclosed porch where it will get light. If you need to keep it outdoors, then protect the root ball from freezing by mulching it in straw or leaves and but do not water (it will get enough water from the outdoors). If the root ball is wrapped in wire, make sure you remove the wire following its indoor stay so the roots don’t get pinched. Trees should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in early spring.”
Indoor potted pine
Rent a tree
You order it, they deliver it, you enjoy it and they pick it up! Here are two BC examples:
DIY Christmas tree
Make a tree from items you already own — books, scrap paper, metal coat hangers, felt, etc.