Christmas Trees: the Gift that Keeps on Killing

Unwrapping the environmental impact of Christmas trees

Kaileigh Bunting // Contributor 

Standing an average of nine feet tall—topped decidedly with twinkling lights and fragile decorations—Christmas trees are a must-have for most households celebrating the holidays. According to The National Christmas Tree Association, between 25 and 30 million trees are sold over the holidays in the United States alone and account for over $1.3 billion dollars in sales. What most people don’t realize, however, is that even a natural Christmas tree can cause more harm than good to the environment.  

“Like anything we consume, there are downsides to Christmas trees, and there are negative impacts that you need to be mindful of no matter what type of tree you use,” Capilano University’s President of Equity and Sustainability Emily Bridge said. Bridge also added that even when people get natural Christmas trees, they are often disposed irresponsibly and pesticides or herbicides could have been used in the growing process of the tree. All of these factors add up quickly when millions of trees are consumed each year.  

When looking at alternative tree options, plastic trees are often no better than their natural counterparts as the carbon footprint of the non-recyclable plastic outweighs that of a natural tree. For people deciding to use a plastic tree this season, Bridge highlighted the importance of committing to the purchase and being mindful of where the tree might end up after its disposal.   

When thinking about sustainable decoration ideas, Bridge suggested to reuse the same ones every year. “When you do purchase new decorations, think about the longevity of those items, or buy from local artisans so you can guarantee high-quality products that will last a long time,” she said. In general, being more mindful about the products you purchase can go a long way. During the Holidays, Zero Waste Canada estimates that Canadians accumulate 25 percent more household waste. A significant amount of which is a by-product of decorations, gifts and single-use holiday items.   

In regards to alternative options for holiday decorations, Bridge recommended a few off-tradition Christmas tree ideas. There are various creative solutions to move towards sustainability this season. For example, “trees [can be] made of scrap materials such as wood or garden tools, trees drawn on chalkboards, or even made out of piles of books,” Bridge said. When it comes to decorating, making your own decorations, using natural materials, and minimizing the purchase of new decorations are steps in the right direction towards a sustainable Holiday. Again, being mindful of wasteful purchases is crucial—only purchasing what you really need is paramount in reducing waste and is also healthy for your wallet.  

It is understandable that the Christmas tree practice may be rooted deep in tradition for some families and while Bridge “would hesitate to say that [tradition] is less important than its potential carbon footprint, it’s not to say that each one of us can’t do better.” This is an important mindset to hold when approaching this issue as no one person will be perfect overnight. Too often, the ideal zero-waste Vancouverite is held as the standard to meet when thinking about reducing one’s environmental impact. Yet in reality, care must be taken to transition properly so that everyone can reach this goal.  

Adopting a zero-waste mindset this Holiday season can be a daunting task, but a necessary one. “I won’t be getting my own tree this year, but I will likely rummage through my parents’ endless boxes of decorations for some items to decorate my own place,” Bridge said. If the real evergreen aesthetic is important to you this December, find organic evergreen branches that may have been discarded and make your own Christmas tradition. Alternatively, look in thrift stores for second-hand decorations. If you do buy a Christmas tree, remember to dispose of it properly at one of Vancouver’s tree recycling depots. Be kind to your friends and family this holiday season, and even kinder to mother nature. 

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