How to Choose a Green Christmas Tree

I’m a sucker for the holidays. Bing Crosby and Dean Martin belting out Christmas tunes on the radio, festive decorations and lights on the streets, tree-shaped cookies served with hot chocolate. But the environmentalist in me cringes at the consumerism that has become Christmas in America. If you’re not careful, the most wonderful time of the year can turn into the most wasteful. Here are 8 tips to keep your Christmas green — and stay true to the spirit of the holiday season.

Here are 8 tips for a Green Christmas

Most of these ideas are really simple to do. Enjoy them with your family come holiday time.

Buy a Sustainable Green Christmas Tree

‘Tis that time of year! If you plan to have a tree in your home for the holidays, you’re likely looking forward to feeling festive while decorating with family ornaments and breathing in that nostalgic evergreen smell. What you don’t need to feel is guilty. Here’s how to choose a green Christmas tree you can feel good about having in your home. Like most conventional agriculture, traditional Christmas tree farms spray their crops with toxic chemicals to keep away bugs and weeds. My local eco-conscious nursery offers a lovely alternative — sustainably grown and harvested Christmas trees.

green Christmas

Christmas tree farm

Greenest Christmas Tree Options

The following are the top ways to choose a green Christmas tree, from best to not-so-great.

1. Get a live potted tree. Miniature evergreens are sold as live, potted trees by U.S. companies such as Harry and David; many even come decorated. If you’d rather have a larger tree, check with your local nursery. Plant your living Christmas tree outdoors after the holiday season, or if you don’t have room for an evergreen on your property, donate it to a local park or charity.

2. Cut down your own tree in a US Forest Service approved location. Christmas tree tags can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of a tree at a Christmas tree store, and getting your tree this way offers a chance for the family to get outdoors for the day. The US Forest Service regulates Christmas tree cutting to benefit the local forest: you’ll be thinning the forest in a strategic location and helping your region’s ecological welfare. If you go, be sure to have a dependable map of Forest Service roads in the area where you’ll be cutting (pick one up when you purchase your tag) and have chains or snow tires on or in your vehicle. Bring a sled to help drag your tree out of the forest, and keep a thermos of hot chocolate in the car for a victory toast. Contact your local Forest Service Office to learn how to get a permit and where you can cut your tree.

3. Buy a live tree from a local, sustainable tree farm. If you’re not quite up for finding your own tree, patronize a local Christmas tree farm that uses organic farming practices. Often you can cut down your own tree (or it’s been cut just hours or days before). Find a tree farm near you using Local Harvest. You’ll cut down on CO2 emissions by buying a tree that doesn’t need to be transported to you.

4. Make a one-time artificial tree purchase. While less green than the above options, buying an artificial tree is arguably a better choice than purchasing a tree at a tree stand every year because you save the emissions and fuel needed to transport your tree every holiday season. Try to buy a US-made artificial tree, and avoid disposing it in a landfill at the end of it’s ‘life.’ Often, charities can use it to decorate for holiday fundraisers or your local Goodwill will be happy to have it.

Green Christmas Tree Recycling

Christmas tree recycling

Enjoying a Green Christmas Tree if You’re Traveling

Often, we’re traveling during the holiday season, but my kids still want a Christmas tree. There are ways to still enjoy a tree while in a condo, hotel room, or rental home.

1. Decorate a tree outdoors. Instead of hauling a Christmas tree on your travels, pack only a string of LED lights and a few cheap ornaments, and find a tree outside your rental home to decorate. We’ve done this on ski trips where we’ve stayed in vacation homes with Christmas-ready evergreens outside our door.

2. Make your own ‘found’ tree. Go on a nature walk outside your rental home, condo, or hotel room, and collect treasures from nature such as driftwood, pine cones, fallen branches, and stones. Make a family project out of reconstructing your finds into a unique Christmas tree.

3. Decorate with greenery. If you don’t have room for an entire tree in your hotel room, but long for that evergreen smell, buy cut greens from a Christmas tree farm or lot and decorate with them. You’ll have that smell you crave without losing space in your room or your luggage.

No matter which option you choose, don’t forget to dispose of your tree in a green manner after the new year. If you live in a rural area, Christmas tree recycling is easy: simply take your tree out into the woods and leave it on its side. It will become a natural habitat for small animals as it decomposes. If you’re in an urban area, take advantage of youth programs that will help. The Boy Scouts of America, for instance, collect trees and use their mulch in local parks.

Here are other fantastic ideas to create memories and not more waste in our landfills.

Buy Used Christmas Ornaments and Decorations

If there’s one item that’s at every church rummage sale, estate sale, and thrift store, it’s Christmas decorations. Why buy them new when you can get them at bargain prices? Go for a vintage look or buy more recently cast-off ornaments.

Wrap Gifts in Newspaper or Reusable Gift Bags

Wrapping paper is the most wasteful part of Christmas morning. It might look pretty sitting under the tree, but once it’s torn off and cast aside, it goes straight to the trash can. Use newspaper as wrapping paper instead, or opt for gift bags that you can use again next year.

green Christmas

newspaper as gift wrap

(Or) Save Used Wrapping Paper for Next Year

If the allure of bright red and green wrapping paper is too much for you to pass up, unwrap carefully and save it for next year. Granted, this will be a challenge if you have young kids. Perhaps a better option in that case would be to buy recycled wrapping paper.

Use LED Christmas Lights

If you’re going to buy new holiday lights, opt for LED, which are exponentially more efficient than traditional incandescent. Recycle Christmas lights to Make a Heat Mat for Seed Starting

Send Holiday Ecards in Lieu of Print Greeting Cards

It’s less expensive and more environmentally friendly to send holiday greetings online. If you do opt for sending holiday greetings the good, old-fashioned way, check out recycled greeting cards.

Buy Fewer Gifts

I think this is one of the hardest tips for me, as an American, to adhere to. Sure, I love the idea of buying less, but the kid in me still likes opening presents on Christmas morning. If you can’t bear to cut down on gift quantity, consider buying practical gifts that you would have bought anyway. And try to skip electronics. Technology becomes dated so quickly that the must-have latest gizmo may be outdated by next Christmas. If you do buy electronics, considering buying them second-hand.

Give Homemade Gifts

Whether you like to bake cookies, knit socks, or brew beer, share your hobby as a holiday gift for neighbors, family, and friends. We’re making an exclusive holiday winter ale to give as gifts this year.

It’s easy to have a green Christmas. Whatever your Christmas traditions are, follow these tips to make your holiday much more eco-friendly. Happy holidays!