How to sustainably buy & decorate your Christmas tree

Living an eco-conscious lifestyle can be particularly challenging during the holidays. Christmas time and festive celebrations often center around consumption and excess indulgence – from food to gifts and seasonal items that get us on in the holiday spirit. Once December rolls around, finding the perfect Christmas tree and decorations becomes a primary focus for those who celebrate. While several aspects of the holidays can easily be made more sustainable, from purchasing local food and gifting experiences to sending virtual Christmas cards and using minimal packaging, finding a sustainable Christmas tree and decorations poses a unique set of challenges.

These seasonal items serve a highly specific and temporary, yet recurring purpose that creates a unique dilemma. On the one hand, natural Christmas trees and holiday decor items possess a lower carbon footprint than artificial options. On the other, artificial trees and decorations are easier to reuse annually but often contain plastic and other non-biodegradable materials.

To help you find the most realistic (and desirable) options for you, read on to discover how to most sustainably buy and decorate your perfect Christmas tree this holiday season.

Real vs. Artificial tree: Which is more sustainable?

Whenever shopping new, real Christmas trees are by far the more sustainable option. Even after being placed in a landfill, natural Christmas trees produce half of the greenhouse gases compared to their artificially-made counterparts. As a general rule: Borrowed items are more sustainable than those purchased brand-new.


How to most sustainably source a real Christmas tree

Renting a Christmas tree offers the best of both worlds regarding sustainability. Contact your local Christmas tree farm(s) to see whether they offer rental options. If you’re planning on purchasing, try to shop from the closest tree farms to your home to limit the carbon footprint from transportation.

Potted Christmas trees are a sustainable option for those who want to own a Christmas tree without waste and can be reused every year. There are potted trees that are either grown in the container or recently have been dug up and potted while they continue to grow.

Container-grown trees tend to be optimal for first-time potted Christmas owners because they are often smaller and have strong roots in the pot. It is advised to leave your potted Christmas tree outdoors for as long as possible. Keep it indoors for up to 12 days.

How to most sustainably source an artificial Christmas tree

According to research conducted by The New York Times, an artificial Christmas tree takes 10-20 uses to lessen its environmental impact. When shopping for an artificial Christmas tree, borrowing and thrifting are the most sustainable options. Explore your local charity shop, ask friends, family, or neighbors first before considering going to the store. If you must buy a new artificial Christmas tree, look for trees made with 100% recycled  (and non-toxic) PVC plastic. Most of these more sustainable options are available on Amazon in various sizes and price points.

It’s nearly impossible to find artificial Christmas trees that do not contain imported PVC or similar plastic made from petrochemicals in large factories. These products generate very high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, end up sitting in landfills for up to a century, and leech chemicals into the groundwater or soil below.

Consider alternative, more eco-friendly Christmas tree options, such as an all-wood or metal tree. This eclectic choice stands out and offers the convenience of an artificial tree without the huge carbon footprint produced by its PVC counterparts.


What to avoid when shopping for a sustainable Christmas tree

Go as low-waste and biodegradable as possible. If you want to get rid of a natural Christmas tree after the holiday, don’t wait until Boxing Day to find out how to properly dispose of and recycle it. In some areas, you can leave your tree on the curb and allow city collectors to mulch it for you. You can also drop off a tree for recycling yourself. Find a free drop-off location or donate your old Christmas tree to an environmental organization that can use the raw materials for a specific, eco-friendly purpose.

Triple check that the tree is bare before discarding – never leave any ornaments, lights, tinsel, or other decorations on the tree when recycling it. Read more from the British Christmas Tree Growers Association for best practices on how to recycle your Christmas tree.

How to find & use sustainable Christmas decor

Some of the most festive decor options are found in nature. Local parks, leftover produce, or spices are accessible choices that often add subtle fragrance to your home to get your environment in the holiday spirit. Search your home, charity shops and exchange decorations with your loved ones for a low-waste solution to refresh your Christmas tree’s aesthetic this season.


The most sustainable Christmas decor ideas to consider

Pinecones, twig ornaments, cinnamon sticks, and dried cloves or fruit pieces (think cranberries and oranges) are affordable, recyclable options that embody the cosiness of the season. Having tree decorations you love is sustainable for the soul and doesn’t add to your existing carbon footprint. Use any LED lights (other Christmas lights), ornaments, tinsel, and other decorations that you have on hand from past years. For new, no-waste alternatives, try making some DIY decorations, such as ornaments made from cookie cutters, puzzle pieces, mason jar tops, wine corks, never-used greeting cards, and more.


What to avoid when shopping for sustainable Christmas decor

Refrain from buying new decor items when possible. If you’re purchasing new decor items, try to buy ornaments made from sustainable fabrics, such as wood, bamboo, cork, organic cotton, and recycled or upcycled paper, felt, wool, and polyester. Always shop for LED Christmas lights when purchasing them new. Avoid items made from PVC and other plastics or products that will likely fall apart after one season.

Longevity plays a significant role in building a sustainable lifestyle. Investing in items for repeated use can help keep waste out of landfills and lessen your carbon footprint over time.

Quick facts on sustainable Christmas trees (and decor)

Using rented, old, borrowed, or thifted Christmas trees and decor will always be the most sustainable option. When purchasing new items, shop items made from recycled or upcycled materials first and buy them with their long-term use in mind.

  • Around 6-8 million Christmas trees are sold in the U.K. every year (Source)
  • A standard Christmas tree takes 5-10 years to grow to a usable height and can help absorb carbon dioxide from the air to offset climate change and global warming (Source)
  • Google searches for the term “sustainable Christmas trees” went up 233% between 2018 and 2019 (Source same as above)
  • It takes 10-20 years for an artificial Christmas tree to minimize its environmental impact (Source)
  • For every Christmas tree cut, farmers typically plant 4-5 new trees (Source)


Author: Elisa Lewittes