How To: Pick a Green Christmas Tree

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Go chop down a tree. Really, we mean it. An artificial Christmas tree might seem like the greener option, since no real tree is being destroyed and it can be reused year after year. But they’re usually made of PVC, and our local recycling center certainly doesn’t have a bin for old PVC trees (Grist has more on the dangers of artificial trees). Christmas tree farms, on the other hand, have sustainability built into the business: when you cart your tree off for trimming, they’ll plant another one to sell a few years down the line. In the meantime it’ll be turning carbon dioxide into oxygen and providing habitats for animals. At least, that’s the simple version of things. In actual fact......many tree farmers use harmful pesticides and other chemicals, so it’s worth calling ahead to see if you can find a local organic grower. Buying from a local farm also means the trees haven’t been hauled cross-country in a CO2-belching truck (though it’s admittedly difficult to buy local if you live in a city or a desert where conifers aren’t exactly common).

The key to making sure your Christmas tree is as harmless as possible—and we assume you wouldn’t be reading this if you’d decided to go the greenest route and skip the tree altogether—is to plan ahead. Make sure you know what you’re going to do with the thing when the festivities are over—it makes a big difference to how and what you buy. Here are some of the post-holiday uses that we’ve seen for your tree:

  • Recycle it into compost. Some cities will collect your tree and compost it, or you can do it yourself. A tree can be turned into mulch, too, so it pays to think about what your landscaping needs are going to be when the snow melts.
  • Sink it in a pond. A tree can offer refuge to fish if you live on a private lake or have a pond. We’d only recommend this if you’re sure the tree hasn’t been treated with chemicals that could harm the aquatic ecosystem.
  • Plant it in the backyard. If you’ve got the space for it, getting a tree with roots and replanting it is obviously the most eco-friendly solution. But make sure you buy a species that will work with the soil type and climate at your house. Get advice on how to care for the plant while its indoors and how to plant it after—if the tree farmer can’t help you, try a greenhouse or nursery. The tree should only be indoors for a week, so don’t plan on the up-at-Thanksgiving, down-at-Valentine’s-Day route.

If you’re stuck with no backyard, no pond, and the city doesn’t recycle, think again about a treeless Christmas. Nobody’s forcing you to put up a tree—except a spouse and children, perhaps. Just assure them that there will still be gifts even if there isn’t a tree to put them under. That’s what they’re really after. ::Care2 ::NOW Magazine

Have a better idea or what to do with a Christmas tree? Post a comment to let us know.