8 ways to make sure your Christmas tree is environmentally friendly

hug your Christmas tree!

Flickr creative commons: eyeliam

The holiday season can invite a number of agonizing decisions, many of which have an impact on our environment. Perhaps the most confusing of all of them is around what some also consider to be the most prized tradition of the holidays: the tree.

Theodore Roosevelt once banned putting up a Christmas tree in the White House due to his conservation ethics, but back then most people harvested their trees from nearby forests. Today, most live trees are grown and harvested on farms that provide over 32 million trees each year, according to the EPA. In recent years, natural Christmas tree sales have declined, however, as fake trees have become the norm.

Need help choosing a holiday tree that actually supports conservation? Here you go: 

1. Avoid plastic Christmas trees. Nine million artificial trees are sold each year, 80% of which are shipped from China so they have a huge carbon footprint. Plastic trees are also made from harmful products, including petroleum, carcinogenic PVC and even lead. And after their six-year-average lifespan, they sit in landfills for centuries.

2. Buy a real tree to help cool the planet. Christmas tree farms help mitigate climate change, especially as the soil absorbs around 10 times as much carbon as the actual wood. Tree farms also provide clean air as well as habitat for wildlife during their eight-to-ten-year growth span.

3. Buy trees grown nearby. Buying Christmas trees grown in your state can reduce the carbon footprint of long-distance transport and support local jobs. Christmas tree farmland is often unusable for other purposes, and when planted next to a natural woodland can increase wildlife diversity. To find a farm near you visit localharvest.org.

4. Enjoy a Christmas tree-cutting adventure in a national forest near you. Forests in Rocky Mountain states like Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming offer affordable permits to help them manage forests. This unique experience can provide fun, lasting memories for the whole family.

5. Recycle your live tree. Many towns offer free drop-off points or curbside pickup, and many nurseries and botanical gardens also accept retired Christmas trees. They're usually turned into mulch, which you can pick up for your garden in the spring. To find a tree recycler, go to realchristmastrees.org or earth911.com.

6. Use caution with potted trees. Some say that only 10% of them will survive the trip indoors, but if you want to get a tree you can plant in your yard after the holidays, get one that is small and native to your region. Make sure that it is indoors for less than a week, and be sure to keep it away from heat and direct sunlight.

7. Get creative with an untraditional "tree." You can also opt to decorate a houseplant or make a tree from reused materials.

8. Consider decorating an outdoor tree. String popcorn around the trunk for a present for your neighborhood's wintering animals.


See also: 

America's best kept secrets: 10 unique national forest experiences