I’m dreaming of a green christmas!
REAL VERSUS FAKE CHRISTMAS TREES
One of the first steps when starting to deck the halls usually isn’t boughs of holly, but a Christmas tree! When you’re deciding on whether to buy a real tree or an artificial tree there are a few things to consider – but there are pros and cons to each.
If you’re going artificial It’s a little easier on the wallet. Artificial trees last longer – if stored properly, and there is less cleanup and no maintenance (we’re talking no pine in your stockings here! They are usually more readily available for people to purchase at the stores they’re already traveling to for groceries or other items, which is good for keeping down carbon emissions. AND Artificial trees are available to buy second-hand, and real trees are not.
However, it is said that you have to use the artificial tree for at least 10 years for it to be as equally eco friendly as a real tree. Artificial trees are typically non-recyclable and end up in landfills – which isn’t good because the most popular artificial trees are made of shredded PVC and lead to stabilize the PVC – which can leach into the soil.
Now let’s talk about real trees – I just switched to a real tree last year, and it’s a wonderful thing to make it a tradition to pick just the right tree, and the wonderful smell of fresh pine it brings to your house without having to light a candle is totally worth it. But the first question some people ask is “Don’t real Christmas trees don’t cause deforestation?” The simple answer is no due to the fact that there are tree farms that grow for the specific purpose of growing real trees – like a crop. 350 million trees are grown on Christmas Tree Farms each year, and in the US there is a Christmas tree farm in every state. The Natural Christmas Tree Association estimates that for every tree used, 1-3 seedlings are planted in its place every spring. So when you buy from local tree farmers, you can support them to continue to grow healthy forests which means an improvement to our air, soil, and the wildlife that lives there – as well as supporting your local and US economy.
When considering buying from a local farmer, you also have to consider the C02 emissions. Most of the greenhouse gases produced from real trees occur during the plantation management – but are offset by the trees themselves. Consider buying from somewhere that is already on your route or closer to home.
Another factor to consider is the pesticides that are sprayed onto the trees. It is unclear how much of those trace pesticides are at the end product reaching your home, but it can still be dangerous to those working on and near the farm and the water sources that they get into nearby. You can ask a farm if it is organic or FSC Certified meaning that they come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits.
Another great benefit to a real tree is that it is biodegradable and recyclable. Some options for disposing of your tree after the new year could include mulching it or composting it, or if you have a backyard you could put it there for the rest of winter as a refuge for wildlife.
When I weigh the options, ultimately I find that it is better to opt for a real Christmas tree if you are able.
LED VERSUS INCANDESCENT BULBS
So now that you have your tree, time to make it merry and bright! There are a few different ways to give your house and the tree the magical twinkle of Christmas without causing your energy bill to spike or adding mounds of waste to the landfill.
Using LED lights consumes 90% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, meaning the cost to power the incandescent bulbs can be up to 90x greater.
LED’s are more expensive upfront, but are more cost-effective in the long run due to the fact that they save on energy costs and last up to 50,000 hours (sometimes even longer) versus 1,000 hours. No matter what lights you have – another way to save is to set all of your lights on timers or turn them off when it makes sense to turn them off – not leaving them on all night.
When you’re done with your lights, consider donating them, or recycling them. Christmas lights are made from copper, glass, and plastic—valuable materials that can actually be recycled and reclaimed. Check to see if your city recycles lights – if they don’t consider sending them to an organization like Christmas Light Source which recycles the lights and uses the proceeds to buy toys and donate them to Toys for Tots.
Ornaments & Decorations
In terms of decorations and ornaments, avoid non-recyclable plastic if possible. You can create your own with dried fruits, pine cones, salt dough – or any other random pieces you have around the house. Consider repurposing your old decorations into something new, or buying second hand. Etsy also has so many great sustainable ornaments and decorations that you can find and you’d be supporting individual artists too!
Maybe you make it a tradition to get one special ornament each year so that you can have a collection that is special to you! Everyone in my family has accumulated years worth of decorations – so even reaching out to family and friends to see if you can borrow their unused decorations for the season could be a fun way to switch it up and avoid the waste and cost.
tis the season to take out the trash
Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans throw away 25% more trash than during the rest of the year. That might not sound like a lot at first, but imagine an extra 25 million tons of garbage! With food waste being a huge part of that.
Reducing food waste is one of the top ways to reduce C02 emissions worldwide, and during the holidays, millions of pounds of uneaten turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and other seasonal foods, unfortunately, end up in landfills.
Ways to prevent this is to make sure you’re not overcooking. If you do overcook, you can freeze your leftovers, or make them into a new exciting recipe. You could also consider calling your local shelter and seeing if they accept leftover food donations.
There is also waste when it comes to drinking – since alcohol consumption doubles during the holiday season. Consider drinking organically, locally, or sustainably. A company that I think is really cool is Misadventure Vodka – which uses food waste – specifically baked goods that otherwise would be sent to a landfill – and turns those starches into a smooth vodka! Organic wine is becoming more common on shelves these days – so go check out your local store and see what they have to offer. Glass and cans – can and should be recycled. According to GWP.CO wine and other bottled alcohol can cause up to 13,000 tons of glass every year during December and January – and if all of it was recycled it could save 4,200 tons of CO2 – the same as taking 1,300 cars off the road every year!
Under the tree is another area of the holidays where you can be more environmentally friendly. Earth911 estimates that approximately 4.6 million lbs. of wrapping paper is produced in the U.S. each year, and that about 2.3 million pounds ends its life in landfills. It is usually ripped open once and thrown away.
If you love the feeling of ripping open a gift at Christmas as I do, opt for recyclable wrapping paper or reusing paper around the house as wrapping paper (like newspapers or magazines), or for cloth ribbons over plastic ribbons. Wrapping paper that is metallic or has glitter can’t be recycled, but wrapping paper like white or brown kraft paper is. A good test to see if it is recyclable is the scrunch test. If you ball up a piece of wrapping paper and it stays balled up, it can be recycled, but if it stretches back out it most likely can’t be.
If you like to take your time and savor the opening of the gift, open your gifts slowly and more methodically so you can save the paper and boxes for next year. The same thing applies to Christmas cards, if it has metallic or glitter – it needs to be removed before recycling. We always use our Christmas cards as decorations for the next year, but you could cut them up to use as tags for gifts or to make them into a wreath. You could also consider sending plantable seed paper cards which are really neat, or just saving paper altogether and sending an ecard – spreading that cheer faster and saving you some cash!
Something I’m going to try this year is Furoshiki which is a Japanese practice of wrapping gifts and other items using fabric. If you’re like me and have old-tattered sheets or material in the house you can’t seem to part with, you could cut those up and repurpose for Furoshiki, or you could thrift fabric or scarves from a secondhand shop. This way you can reuse the same fabrics year to year! And to finish it off, you clip off greenery pieces from your real Christmas tree and add them as embellishments on your gifts!
Something To Grow On
Ultimately, switching your mindset from a material focused Christmas to a connection focused Christmas will be so much more fulfilling. Gary Tan said, “We don’t really want things, we want the feelings we think those things will give us”
Your something to grow on for this week is to consider at least one way to make a deeper connection this year – with yourself and the people you love to give the true sense of joy. Whether that’s not gifting at all, starting a new tradition like Christmas game night, spending time on a shared activity, giving instead of gifting, volunteering, or something as simple as spending quality time with no screens. I promise you will feel so much more at peace, with the added bonus that you didn’t harm the planet in doing so!
May your days be extra merry and bright, and I hope from now on all of your Christmases will be green!
more from the podcast
I’ve made a digital worksheet that you can use to help outline your goals, your priorities, and your actions for the week and month that you can download for free! Subscribe below to get the worksheet emailed directly to you. You can check out Hometown: Earth on Instagram @hometownearth for statistics on the top household offenders for harmful products and waste that may help you to decide what you want to try to change first!