December 1, 2016


Image Credit: Pottery Barn

The Christmas tree is largely a Germanic tradition, dating back to the 1500s.  In the 1700s, German immigrants brought over the tradition to the U.S.  However, the Christmas tree didn't gain notoriety outside of the German households until the 1830s, when Queen Victoria & Prince Albert (both of German descent) brought the tradition to Windsor Castle in the U.K.  This caught the attention of the public and soon, the Christmas tree tradition widely spread.  In the1930s, the idea of an artificial tree was invented by U.S.-based toilet brush manufacturer Addis Brush.  The first artificial trees are merely a giant, green toilet bowl scrubber.  History shows that the Christmas tree is a deeply rooted tradition on an international level.

Before splurging on a tree this season, there are advantages and disadvantages to a live vs. artificial tree to consider.
An artificial tree can be kept for many years to come if you have the storage space. It's low maintenance and there's only a one-time cost.  It's a great solution for parents and pet owners worried about stray pine needles being a choking hazard.

There is no substitute for the fresh scent of a live cut Christmas pine.  Artificial scent sprays are available but the scent pails in comparison & contains many harmful chemicals.  Two to three seedlings are planted for every live one cut.  The number of trees in an acre of a Christmas farm produces enough oxygen for 18 people daily.  Once the season is over, most local waste management service offer free curbside pickup and will recycle them into mulch.  Therefore, live trees are much more sustainable than an artificial version.

Image credit: Pinterest


PROS                                                                             CONS                                                                

Convenience:                                                                 Environmental Impact:  
*  No need to cut down a live tree annually.            * Laden with toxic chemicals:  Typically
*  Many are pre-lit which means no need to            manufactured with metal (i.e. lead) &
unwind/rewind the lights every year.                         polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a
*  Minimal shedding of pine needles -                       petroleum-derived  plastic full of carcinogens.
great for households with kids or pets                      Carcinogens are known to be associated with
                                                                                         causing several forms of cancer.
                                                                                         * Non-recyclable & non-biodegradable
Cost:                                                                                * According to the National Christmas Tree
*  There's no annual cost of buying a tree.               Association (NCTA), approx. 85% of
*  Well-priced.  I recently saw a 6' tree at Target      artificial trees sold in the US are imported -
on sale for $30 (from $200+)!                                      adding to the their overall carbon footprint
                                                                                        * Need a place to store when not in use

                                                                                        No natural pine scent:                                                                                                                                                 *  There are pine sprays you can                                                                                                                                add, but they don't smell like the real stuff.
                                                                                        Air fresheners also contain carcinogens.                    

Image credit: Pinterest


PROS                                                                             CONS                                                                

Natural pine scent                                                      Maintenance:
                                                                                      *  Shedding pine needles, which are
Support for local farmers                                           poisonous & a choke-hazard
                                                                                      *  When cut & brought home, fresh water
Environmental Impact:                                               needs to be added at the base & branches
*  Every 1 acre of a Christmas tree farm                      misted in order to retain moisture  
produces enough oxygen to sustain 18 people                  
for 1 day                                                                       Environmental Impact: 
*  2 to 3 seedlings are planted for each                   * Require a great deal of water, but artificial
Christmas tree cut down                                              trees take about 8x more energy to create.
* 1 farmed tree absorbs more than 1 ton of              
CO2 during its lifetime                                                Cost:
* Biodegradable & recyclable into mulch                 * Expect to spend around $50-100 annually

I didn't have a Christmas tree last year.  Instead, I hung ornaments on my
lighting fixture over a Christmas floral arrangement.


Here are a few other tips to consider to make your tree more sustainable this year.

*  Switch to LED lights:  LED lights have roughly 1/6 the carbon footprint of incandescent lights.  Not only is the energy use for LED lights is much less but the lifecycle of LEDs are much longer.

Image credit: IKEA

*  Secondhand ornaments:  If you're looking to add new ornaments, try eBay, consignment stores or a friend who wants to get rid of some.  Goodwill and other charity organization stores typically carry secondhand Christmas decorations around this time of year.  A few years ago, my mom announced she was too lazy to decorate and wanted to get rid of hers.  I picked out what I wanted to keep & donated the rest.

*  DIY ornaments:  Make your own using items that you already have around the house (i.e. your child's precious artwork, old toys), found objects in nature (i.e. driftwood, shells, etc.) or use ingredients found in bulk to create your own (i.e. salt dough or cinnamon dough recipes).

                                                                 Dried Orange Garland 

*  Ornament storage:  My husband's grandma gave me hands-down the best idea on this one.  The next time you buy a pack of apples or pears from Costco, reuse the fruit packaging to store your ornaments.  It's the perfect fit for round ornaments and it protects the individual pieces from rubbing against each other.  When you have multiple packs, they stack nicely too.

Repurpose Fruit Containers as Ornament Storage

*  Minimize shopping trips:  Less driving = less CO2 emissions into the air.

Image credit: Pinterest

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