Picking the Greenest Christmas Tree

Going green — By Stephanie on December 3, 2009 at 6:10 am
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How green is your Christmas Tree?

Its that time of year again…. time to pick out a Christmas Tree!  What makes sense for you and your family from a cost standpoint?  How about considering environmental impact?   Can you think about both factors?  Certainly!

This year, you can choose a green Christmas tree, no matter how you define the term!  As you probably already know, your options for a seasonal tree include live, artificial, cut-your-own, and retail:

  • Live – a living Christmas tree is one that you can replant after the holidays.  It comes, root ball and all, in a potted container.  Simply add your decorations and then, after January 1, plant in your backyard or donate to a park.  COST: $20 and up.
  • Artificial – pay up front a single time, and then re-use your “fake” tree for years to come.  You don’t need to worry about the waste associated with cut trees, nor watering or potential fire hazards associated with dried out branches.  Still, there are some drawbacks, which we’ll explain in more detail below. COST: $100 and up.
  • Cut-Your-Own – Here in Oregon, there are many places to cut your own tree.  For a cheap $5, you can get a permit from the U.S. Forest Service – depending on location.  The added “green” benefit is that you’re helping the service naturally thin the trees that usually take precious water and nutrients from the larger stands.  In addition, Christmas-sized trees can be forest fire fuel.  So, go ahead and pat yourself on the back again.  COST: $5 (doesn’t get more affordable than this!)
  • Retail – Head to a local Christmas tree lot and pick out a tree.  That’s it.  What is “green” about that choice, you may ask?  Well, if you chose a locally-grown tree, transportation costs are minimal and it can be recycled after the holidays (unlike artificial trees).  You can also support local farmers who raise Christmas trees on their land as crops, rather than clear-cutting stands from forests.  Some tree farms have U-Cut options, which reduces the cost for consumers.  COST: $15 and up

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Douglas Fir Trees are popular choices for Christmas

Choosing an eco-friendly Christmas tree depends in part on where you live.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, its easy to get a permit to cut a tree from a forest, or even rent a live Christmas tree that can be replanted after the holidays.

But what if you live in the tropics?  Does it make more sense to purchase a retail “live tree, or invest in an artificial one?

As we explained last holiday season:

Artificial trees are made from petroleum products, often in China, where concerns about manufacturing processes have recently been newsworthy.  The potential for lead poisoning if you own one of these trees is high.  Doesn’t sound too cheery to me!

Fresh-cut trees are all natural, of course, but they require a great deal of area on which to plant Christmas trere farms.  Not only that, but the fuel required to haul the trees from farm to stand increases the carbon footprint of this alternative.  You could go to a U-Cut farm for a slightly more environmentally-friendly Christmas tree.  Just don’t request that you have it flocked!

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Don't go for one of those aluminum, commercial trees if you can help it!

So, what is a consumer to do?

Our advice: consider your location first and foremost.  If you live in an area where you can either harvest your own Christmas tree, or replant a live one, then those are probably your best bets.  Those of you who live in tropical climes may want to think about decorating a palm tree, or other indigenous species, instead of going the fake route.

If you do purchase a cut tree, recycle it after the holidays!  In my hometown, the Boy Scouts will pick up your tree and take it to the recycling center for you.  Suggested donation is $5.

Sure, you may be tempted by the convenience of the one-time cost of an artificial tree.  But can petrolem-based pine needles really warm your heart with the spirit of Christmas?

I didn’t think so.

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  1. We have a place nearby where we can go pick a tree and cut it down ourselves – very cool experience and nice trip for the whole family. Kids love picking out a tree!

  2. Stephanie says:

    Isn’t that the best, Tara? We’re going to cut our own too. The kids think that’s much more fun than going to a tree lot. :)

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