12.24.13Alan Harris

Remember: Recycle Christmas Tree

Recycle Christmas TreeRemember to recycle fresh cut trees and keep using artificial trees for at least 10 years.

The holidays will soon be winding down and the Yule* tree will need to find a new home. This was originally posted in 2011, so if you went the fake tree route you have 8 more years to use your tree  to be sustainable. However, if you used a fresh cut tree remember you can still be green if you recycle your Christmas Tree.

When it comes to tree selection this Holiday season, how sustainable are you?

Unless your tree is flocked or a funky colored artificial (PVC) tree chances are your tree this year will be green, but is it sustainable? Previously we covered the connection of trees to water so you already know the many benefits trees have on the environment, but what happens when millions of trees are cut for temporary holiday displays and could an artificial tree perhaps actually be greener?

40 million to 45 million trees are cut for holiday decorations every year, but since most trees cut are from a farm there is an equal amount of trees replanted every year. At any given time there are 446 million trees growing on farms in United States. These trees contribute a substantial amount towards the betterment of the environment and water management. Using a fake tree will only save a real tree if you were planning on cutting down a tree from the forest.

But wait…isn’t there a carbon footprint associated with a real tree. Short answer is yes. Most of the footprint from using a real tree is a result of growing (fertilization), harvesting and transporting from the farm to the retailer to your home and then ultimately to the tree’s final resting place. However, since most artificial trees come from China the transportation miles for the fake tree are substantially higher, at least for the first year.

So at what point do the miles and footprint balance each other in the sustainability equation? According to the Christmas Tree Association (which is actually a site for artificial trees) you need to hold on to the artificial tree for 10 years before you are more environmentally conscious and sustainable. However, according to a very scientific 91 page study the environmental return on the investment on an artificial tree is just a short 6 years. The problem is most people hold onto their artificial trees for far less than 6 – 10 years, which makes a real tree greener.

If you make the more sustainable choice and decide to use a real tree here are a couple of tips to help minimize the carbon footprint and increase your sustainable practices.

Buy a Local Christmas Tree – since most of the footprint is associated with transportation you can substantially reduce the miles by sourcing a real tree locally.

Recycle Christmas Tree – compost it, sink it in a pond (with permission) for fish habitat or take it to a local chipper for mulch.

If you choose to go the route of a fake tree, keep using it for 10 years or more. If your relationship with your artificial tree does not last that long at least now you know it is environmentally acceptable to use a real tree next year and the next and the next…

* Holiday Tree, Christmas Tree or Yule Tree? Over the past few years some people (media) have started using a more politically correct term “Holiday Tree” which infuriates many people for abandoning the term “Christmas Tree”.

Hello, Pot. This is the Kettle and I am calling you B-L-A-C-K.

Christians adopted (stole) the Pagan tradition of Yule centuries ago. I am okay if terminology changes every few hundred or thousand years. In fact I have it on good authority from Sid the Sloth that prior to trees being popular, large boulders were the “in thing” in prehistoric times. Don’t believe it? You can watch the “documentary” yourself.

FULL DISCLOSURE: In case you didn’t figure it out for yourself I have always had and always plan to have a real tree. I welcome the responses and counter arguments from fake tree lovers. Update: Due to a new addition to the family (6 month old rescued puppy) we opted to forego a Christmas tree in 2013.

If you liked this reminder to recycle Christmas trees, please leave a comment, share it with a friend, check out my previous posts , follow me on Twitter @h2oMatters  and

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P.S. For the reader who wants more on the “modern” history of the Christmas Tree.


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Alan Harris

Alan Harris is a water management pioneer. With roots in landscape architecture, Alan has worked with irrigation throughout his career experimenting with hydrozones and a variety of high efficiency irrigation systems. Now, over thirty years in the landscape industry, Alan continues to stay apprised of the latest technology even in a sales leadership capacity as our Director of Sales Operations and Regional Sales Leader for our landscape maintenance division. In addition to his contributions to this blog, Alan keeps his hand in water management as a regular contributor to Lawn & Landscape Magazine.


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