Not so green: Cut Christmas trees & fake Christmas trees
For a long time there's been a debate about which is better, fake trees which don't require you to cut down a tree or cut trees which don't require non-renewable resources. Neither is a great green choice, although if you weight the pros and cons real cut trees come out a little bit ahead. Artificial trees are worse for the environment than cutting a real live tree down because they're made from mainly non-renewable plastics. Some artificial Christmas trees even contain PVC. The toxins and other nasty chemicals needed to create artificial trees, plus the pollution made while creating them make them a bad green decision. Many fake trees are made in China (most actually) and not under Fair Trade standards. It's also hard to find a place that will recycle an old artificial tree. The flip side of the debate is from people who have had the same artificial tree for years. This is a better green choice than simply having an artificial tree for a year or two because it does save trees but you do still have the chemical issue with many.
Real trees of course pose a problem if you're against cutting down trees simply to have a tree for a few weeks. Some trees are harvested from pre-existing forests not managed forests and the transport of all cut trees creates plenty of emissions. Pesticides sprayed on trees are another issue, and it can be hard to find an organic Christmas tree farm. On the pros side, cut trees don't amount to the same toxins and chemicals as cut trees and can be reused and recycled. Real trees are biodegradable and can be mulched or used for heat and even easily recycled. If you go with a real cut tree look for an organic Christmas tree farm or one that uses Integrated Pest Management vs chemical treatments. Although, in terms of emissions, a local non-organic Christmas tree is better than an imported organic.
One exception ot this is if you have local availability to cutting your own tree, In a managed forest that needs to be thinned for the health of the forest.
Greener: Living Christmas trees
Living Christmas trees are live potted trees that you can later plant in your yard or in a community garden. You can reuse your living tree to celebrate for a few years if you got a fairly small one to start with. This is a fairly green choice so far as Christmas trees go. The downside is you'll need to care for your tree - but that's not too hard. If you're interested, check out a guide on how to find a living Christmas tree no matter where you live.
Greenest: No tree and other alternatives
You don't need a tree to celebrate the Christmas season. Instead try one of these alternatives...
You can have a wreath made from found branches and other goodies or buy an organic wreath, organic holiday flowers, or other organic greenery to brighten up the house.
You can make a Christmas tree out of recycled paper - even a 3-dimensional tree.
You can get an artsy eco-alternative like the Eco Christmas tree by Buro North (shown above).
Protecting Other Trees During The Christmas Season
The environmental charity, Cool Earth has just launched a new campaign to make sure we all protect a mature, hardwood canopy tree this Christmas. There are 12 different species of tree to choose from but each tree you sponsor actually exists in the Ashanika rainforest of the Amazon. This is an area of pristine rainforest experiencing rapid deforestation.
As well as being able to sponsor trees you can also buy beautiful jewellery which comes with 1/4 acre of protected rainforest. Go visit the website to find out more at coolearth.org