-Approximately 25 million-30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the nation every year.

-An acre of living Christmas trees produces the daily oxygen for 18 people.

-Eighty percent of artificial trees are manufactured in China, and most are made with PVC and other plastics, which do not biodegrade and which contain enough lead to legally require a warning label.

While there isn’t much that says Christmas like a decked out tree, every year we are saddened by the waste and loss of life that goes into the usual cut-down-and-dress-up trees that most people buy from the local parking lot. Fortunately, there are kinder and greener options for Christmas trees that really aren’t too difficult to implement at all, if you are just willing to rethink antiquated traditions and realize that the holiday spirit doesn’t need to mean going to the tree lot to chop down a tree. Every year we are frustrated to hear the same old same old ‘plastic tree’ versus ‘cut tree” debate – when the most environmentally friendly option by far is simply to get a living tree instead.

With a living Christmas tree, not only do you skip the sad annual tree-killing bit, but you also skip out on the consumerist production and disposal that is involved in both plastic and cut trees. Most importantly, however, you can rest easy knowing that your live tree will be producing oxygen and filtering carbon dioxide to make the world a better place.

Think about how long it takes your beautiful 12 foot cut pine tree to reach its mature state – only to go spend 3 weeks in your living room turning brown before it gets tossed in the dump. The whole industry of cut trees is pretty sad – even considering that those trees were grown specifically to be Christmas trees. Your best bets for truly green trees include renting or buying living trees, and repotting after the fact.

If you’re a last-minute tree shopper, consider that living replantable Christmas trees have significant environmental benefits, producing oxygen and absorbing CO2, with the possibility of living on after the holiday festivities. If you have a living potted Christmas tree, you can easily plant that little guy in your yard or donate it to Friends of the Urban Forest to be planted a local area in need of some flora.

While they’re not as common, Rent-a-Tree programs are gaining some momentum, a big one gaining attention in San Francisco 2 years ago. The programs provide a variety of tree species to families for the holiday season which can be strung with popcorn and tinsel just like their disposable cousins, but come early January, the city will pick them up and plant them in a neighborhood that needs some greening. The Original Living Christmas Tree Company in Oregon has been providing a rental Xmas tree service for some time. It’s not the cheapest route, but it definitely represents the spirit of giving that characterizes this season.

If you’ve bought a cut tree, consider your post-holiday recycling options. The image of the shriveled Charlie Brown tree comes to mind, when the tree that took at least 10 years to cultivate and grow has seen its week of holiday sparkle and is now starting to lose its glimmer. Treecycling is your best bet for recycling your tenanbaums, and have peace of mind in the new year that its branches will be used to provide mulch, landscaping, or erosion prevention for new landscapes.

For treecycling locations near you, look here >

If you want something cheaper and smaller, try a DIY tree. The Yule Tree-To-Be Kit provides you with seeds to grow your own Noble Fir. This is a great idea for marking an important first (first Xmas together, baby’s first Xmas, etc.), and it grows in size and meaning as the years pass.

What are your thoughts for the greenest way to do the tannenbaum tradition?


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  1. llaws December 11, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Do you realize the chemicals used to grow live or cut Christmas trees? The workers must wear hazmat suits to apply chemicals. I live in a tree growing area, and we have one of the highest cancer rates in the US. The chemicals get in our air and our water. Please, give me a break about live trees, unless you go into the woods and harvest a “free-range” tree.

  2. jkjk519 December 23, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    May we use the photo of a tree for a video that we are making? We will give you full credit!

  3. eldkrona December 12, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Point well put, that for every cut xmas tree, there are 9 more standing, which are able to absorb CO2. Most xmas trees are planted in areas that are less desireable for food crops. Even if they replace crops, the reality is that foods grown there would not necessarily reach the hungry. The unsustainable part of the xmas tree industry, aside form the carbon fuels used to transport them to market, is the yearly use of pestisides to kill the weeds and invasive plants that spring up along side the trees, adding to the diffulculty in shearing and harvesting. Many of the farms I grew up near replaced fescue grass and potatoes with xmas trees which proved to be more profitable. Neat tidy farms have barrels of chemicals used. If not the blackberry and cotton wood would engulf the little trees.

    If we could raise these trees organically, then they are the best bet for sustainable xmas decor for the regions in which they come from. Transporting these trees from Oregon to Texas is not helping our carbon inpact.

    So for other regions what we really need is a low VOC, post consumer plastic tree that can be used over and over, thus reducing the carbon used to transport live trees.

    As for live potted trees, not many will survive our 3 weeks of indoor heat, get watered properly in their pots durning the summer, and get pruned in a way so they will be attractive for an additional few years. So what happens? Another potted tree in transported to the home in an attempt to try and keep it alive again. Maybe our most sustainable tree in the one out in our front lawn that we decorate until it is too big. Then itis time to plant another one.

    After much fretting this year over my famillies decsion to get a big tree, I am calmer in knowing that my tree only traveled a few miles, profits suported our local school and it wil be mulched. Our rural hillsides here in Oregon will continue to restock with co2 absorging coniferous trees, rather than scrub brush and vines.

    Next Year I will look for one that is grown without pesticides. Meanwhile for those who aren’t as fortunate to live surrounded by Doug Fir, you can be sure that someone has already realized thst there is a market for the artificle tree above that I have described!

  4. meiling September 25, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    Jill, the writer, notes that you can give potted trees to FUF to plant elsewhere in the City.

    *Please everyone! This is not true!* FUF does take these little orphans, but they can’t plant them.

    Unfortuantely, traditional potted trees are not suitable for planting in the city in the areas that FUF plants in. The sidewalk cut-outs are just to small and harsh for these types of trees. I use to work at FUF and I had quite a time of it keeping those little conifers alive until I could find someone to foist them off to. I never found enough people with the right kind of space to plant these trees who were willing to take them on and some would end up in the compost heap every year. I spent alot of my own time trying to make it work out too.

    But SFEnviornment and FUF have partnered to make a great program where you can get a great tree, a living tree, that’s right for the City delivered to your house and picked up after the holiday season. They’ll take good care of it until they plant it in one of their community driven neighborhood plantings and then do follow up care for up to five years afterwards to make sure it’s healthy and well cared for. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s the best choice for the City since it adds to the urban enviornment and doesn’t require trucked in goods that get trucked out as compost or garbage. has all the info on the program.

  5. dash August 22, 2008 at 1:00 am

    I think the process of thinking the life cycle of a christmas tree and alternatives should be only the beginning
    for all Americans to stop and think about the pros and cons of our consumed goods.. One of which is a xmas tree. I personally bought my daughter a living tree then after xma we planted it in a large pot on our front
    porch. We love looking at it everyday and calling it out first xmas tree.

    It would seem that if 30 million trees were sold and planted every year.. and 300000 million more the next year etc.. that a lot of trees would be both planted by ordinary folks and professional tree growers.

    The mulch idea sounds good but if my memory serves.. doesnt “mulching” require some fossil fuels to
    crunch up an entire tree? Let alone 30 million of them??

    So I vote for planting trees.. and trying to figure out a way to get the word out that it is really fun to plant a tree..
    and if you are nostalgic enough to buy a tree for xma why note remember it by making it a part of the


  6. Saphinator June 18, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    Christmas trees can be mulched. They can also be used in lakes to provide cover for fish. There are even petting farms that accept them (one nearby in Georgia offers a free visit with a Christmas tree). Some people live near woods, and they can drag them out for small animal cover. I think if ‘killing’ a tree is my worst sin, I can sleep with that. As for religious issues, I think that they can be debated in a more appropriate forum.

  7. skeet January 23, 2008 at 10:07 am

    a couple of thoughts to add:
    How much CO2 is chucked out transporting these trees and feeding them factory manufactured fertiliser? Can I get an organically grown one, grown locally to me? ( no) Maybe get a small one in a pot and keep it from year to year. ( I did try, but it grew into a very unsual shape), or get a recycled plastic non leaded one and keep it for years and grow (organic) broccoli instead. On the other hand, shouldn’t we be doing something about the mad explosion of tungsten Christmas lights, in town centres and garish displays on peoples houses …ie ban them, and get the highly efficient and much more tasteful led types

  8. Big Tony January 15, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    I just rescued 2 cut trees with bases. They are very nice and I am keeping them alive with water in my back yard. Any one know if they can be planted to sprout roots.

  9. Kat December 31, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    also, even though tree farms are (i would assume as i’ve never been to one) in relatively remote rural areas, i like the idea of a select expanse of land being used for growing trees, as opposed to, say, paved over for strip malls, as urban sprawl further diminishes rural areas.

    the argument about mourning a crop of broccoli was really effective. maybe food is more of a necessity than a decorative holiday tree, but that’s a tradition that most people who celebrate christmas won’t soon be relinquishing, so it’s important for people to know the best alternative. i the key is to make it easy for people to recycle their trees into mulch, which is a useful, earth-friendly product. no waste! the only pollutants would come from the processes of harvesting, trannsportation, and mulch-making, which the trees themselves would help to erase.

    and would it be any less tragic for a living christmas tree to have to be chopped down once it outgrows its spot in the garden? people unwittingly choose the wrong plants for their homes all the time.

    i don’t know if evergreen trees come in miniature, but one house that my family and i used to pass on our way home had a wee perfect little pine tree growing out of a stump in their front yard, no taller than 5 feet, and they’d decorate it every year. it was really sweet, and could be enjoyed by all. who would need an indoor tree if they made a choice to have all the tradition and ceremony involved in a tree in their front yard? maybe that’s what the living trees are supposed to be all about, because planting your christmas tree in your yard every december just isnt plausable.

    the unspecified lead content is a frightening thought. my parents bought an attractive fake tree last year, and the fact that it’s so much lighter, less messy, less money,and less hassle has sold them on it.

  10. Dick Johnson December 28, 2007 at 4:48 am

    Considering that most Christmas tree’s are planted specifically to harvest, and while they are growing, they are absorbing CO2 out of our atmosphere.. and generally not being burnt or releasing it quickly afterwards -whats the big deal?

    I would rather have the lovely smell of a fresh tree in my home than a cheaply manufactured plastic tree.

  11. lola December 27, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    The living tree is really impractical unless you have 40 acres to plant one year after year. People who live in the suburbs & cities (which statistically means most Americans) don’t have space to plant a tree after xmas. Also, if you think cutting a tree is sad, then have some sympathy for a live tree shocked by being moved indoors where it’s too warm for the tree — totally wrong habitat — & the tree can only survive for, at best, a week inside, then it’s shocked again & taken back outdoors where the chances of being replanted are sketchy. How many folks who buy these trees are horticulturalists? Is the soil condition correct? None of this is very healthy for the tree.

    Growing a tree from seed is also a pretty difficult prospect. Oh & don’t forget that those trees grow to be 40-60 feet tall. Got space for that in your backyard? Most ppl don’t.

    Farmed xmas trees are a crop just like corn or carrots or broccoli. Cutting them is no more “sad” than eating a salad. Plus, tree farms have a positive effect on the environment, & the dead trees can be mulched. Check for plenty of recycling programs around the US.

    I’m really tired of the knee-jerk concept of “green” xmas trees. Get realistic.Yes, let’s ban the plastic crap made in China & full of lead. Tell ppl not to have any tree if you must, but don’t encourage things that will result in more problems than not. You give practical environmentalism a bad name.

  12. Ondine December 25, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    I also agree that the tree farming model is pretty low on the list of things to worry about. The part of this story that interests me is the mention of the toxicity of fake trees. I am fake tree owner because I’m violently allergic to pine pollen and I know a lot of other people that have tree allergies. I also know that the fake trees are lighter and easier to put up for some, like the elderly. Also, for those that do not live near a tree farm the one time purchase of a fake tree means cutting down on fuel used to ship the tree to them. It’s also cheaper.

    I’ve had my fake tree for many years and I don’t expect to have to replace it any time soon, so it’s not like it’s particularly disposable. It does creep me out that they are made with less than safe materials though. I’d like to see someone try and produce fake trees out of recycled plastic and metal, similar to how they use plastic bags to make park benches. Maybe throw in some LED lights and you’re good to go.

    If I could buy one fake tree made from recycled plastic and use it for 10 years or more, then recycle it again, I would and I know most of my friends would too. Too bad I don’t have a Christmas tree factory……

  13. Richie December 25, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    Hi… there’s a lot to puzzle over during the Yeshua-mass Holiday.

    (Yeshua was the name that ‘Jesus’ answered to while walking the planet.). Originally Yeshua’s B-day was celebrated January 6th. In order to ‘fold in’ the pagan wood god (Santa Claus) and ‘Sun Worshippers’ (Dec.25th) celebrations into their scene… the early Christians moved the Birthday celebration of Yeshua to December 25th. That way, the pagan wood god and Sun worship celebrations would happen on Yeshua-mass. Nice move folks !

    Since Jesus, oops… I mean Yeshua, wasn’t even born on December 25th and the cutting down tree thing was all about a pagan wood god celebration anyway… why the HELL are we cutting down trees or using artificial trees at all !!!???

    So… ‘What would Yeshua Do ?’ Were there even any ‘Douglass Spruce’ (pine) trees in his neighborhood (Israel) to chop down ? And if so, would that have been his choice of a way to celebrate his birthday ? I doubt it.

    So let’s all get past it folks. It’s time to get past:

    Peace on Earth… Good will to all Humans and to all that is living…


  14. Stanley December 24, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    I agree. If there were no such thing as an artificial tree, there would be far more acres of live trees to meet the Christmas tree demand. That sounds like a positive to me.

  15. Ryan December 24, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    Too late. All the Christmas trees have been cut down this year. The world’s gonna end.

    These trees are farmed to be Christmas trees. I still can’t understand why cutting them down is such a bad thing if they’re farmed for it. This is almost completely an emotional issue (“sad annual tree-killing”) and not a danger to the earth’s well-being. What is so wrong with my “consumerist disposal” if I’m turning it into mulch? I cut mine down with a hacksaw, so the only damage done I can see is the 5 mile car ride to transport it home. There are much bigger environmental issues to be worried about. Happy Holidays!

  16. Cunado December 24, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    Your points are somewhat valid but a bit myopic…. consider this: If 30 million trees are cut each year, and it takes about 10 years to grow a tree, there are 300 million Christmas trees out there at any given moment to meet the demand of future years. If everyone got one living tree instead of a cut one, you will add a one time number of 30 million living trees. One farm in Canada has over 200 acres and serves 2,000 “customers” each year. 2,000 live trees at individual residences (totaling at best, one, maybe two, acres of trees) would never touch the environmental benefit that 200+ acres of trees does. There is great environmental value (as you pointed out, CO2, oxygen, cooling, etc) in the remaining 270 million trees waiting for future use, and great economic value for the tree farmers that grow and sell them. Also, the Christmas tree market is sustainable (If they cut 30 million, they will at least plant 30 million more to replenish). And with most communities having tree recycling programs creating useful mulch… the cycle is complete. I ‘ve always liked the idea of a living tree for my own use, but that option does not negate the validity and many benefits of the seemingly wasteful cut tree market.

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