During the holidays, a Christmas tree really ties the room together. And, for those of us who like to prolong things, the tree can stay until early January, but eventually, that sucker has to come down. Fake trees are usually packed away and stowed in the attic, but real trees, what most consider the only true option, are a little more complicated.

It is no less than a travesty that annually we cut down over 34 million Christmas trees. Sure, there is an entire industry built around doing this, with about ten times that amount being cultivated, but this practice is questionable as well. Christmas trees, like corn or soy, are usually grown in vast monocultures that require a considerable amount of pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer to function.


The dirty truth is that we do all this to the earth so that we can celebrate peace on it, so it would be a real shame to further damage the planet by loading up already overstuffed landfills with Christmas trees. Luckily, treecycling centers are readily available, and it’s easy enough to deal with trees at home.

What to Do with Your Tree

NJ Tech Teacher/Flickr

In an amazing lean towards responsible waste management, treecycling centers are set up all around the country. Those wanting to dispose of their trees more responsibly can simply look up the nearest center on Earth911 and take the tree over when all is said and done. The fate of these trees is one much nobler than that of landfills — they are chipped into mulch and fed back to the earth, usefully completing their natural cycle.

For the more DIY types, there are lots of ways of dealing with Christmas trees at home. They can be cut up into garden projects, as the trunks make good borders, the limbs make good tomato stakes, and the needles make good mulch. They can also simply be broken into pieces and left to rot around trees. Or, an annual Christmas tree in a pond makes for a great fish habitat and feeding ground.


The one thing we should not do with our Christmas trees is to drag them to the curb to be taken to the dump. In essence, this sends the biodegradable trees to a place in which they become contaminated sludge. We’d be better off cutting them into pieces and dumping them in the woods somewhere.

The Real vs. Fake Debate

When faced with the guilt of cutting down another tree each year, many people switch to fake trees, believing this will be better for the environment. All things considered, it’s not so cut and dry.


Real trees at least do some carbon sequestering and air filtering over their lifetimes (roughly seven years.) However, most growers do use bio-chemicals when cultivating them, so that’s not great for the planet. If Christmas trees grow in a region, then that’s great, but many times they are shipped across the country after being harvested, creating holiday miles.

On the other hand, fake trees are largely composed of metal (for the trunks) and PVC (for the branches and needles.) While they may last for years, they add to the non-biodegradable, toxic pile of garbage we’ve been amassing for future generations. And, most of them are made overseas, so they come with even more holiday miles.


In short, the choice between these two is more or less, oddly, one between two evils. That’s not exactly how most of us envision Christmas. According to many studies, it requires at least ten years of use for a fake tree to possibly be on equal ecological footing as buying a real tree annually, so that’s worth keeping in mind.

A More Ecological Solution


For those looking to take their activism to the next level, there is an even better solution than treecycling at centers or at home. There’s a more obvious and environmentally-friendly solution than reusing a fake tree for over ten years. Lots of people are going with potted Christmas trees instead of felled versions. In this case, the tree can often be used for the season and then planted out to become a full-blown version of itself. Plant it in the yard, and it could be an outdoor Christmas tree for years to come. Otherwise, try some eco-alternatives to the traditional route.

We all have our limits and expectations, but if we all make an effort to do what we can, things will definitely get better. That’s a fantastic holiday wish.

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