By Adriana Trocea

It’s that time of year again. Carols, cinnamon coffee, sparkling lights and Christmas markets, shopping sprees and Christmas trees. Are you getting a tree this year?

How the Christmas tree became the elephant in the room

For years, family dinner conversations steered clear of politics, money and religion. More recently, the Christmas tree has made the list as well. During the holidays, the health of the planet seems to rest on the branches of the Christmas tree. But is it so?

Plastic trees are better. Assuming you use them until your newborn goes to college

Before labeling something as eco-friendly, you need to look at the entire production system. Why should we make an exception when it comes to Christmas trees? Of course, if we’re just thinking about cutting or not cutting a tree,  using a plastic one seems to be the most sustainable option. But most plastic trees are made from environmentally damaging petroleum chemicals and travel across the world, thus having a huge carbon footprint. Also, most people only reuse them 3 to 5 times, and studies say plastic trees would need to be re-used for 20 years in order to have a lower environmental impact than a real tree. 

12 years to grow tall enough for your living room

Unlike their plastic counterparts, a cut down Christmas tree was purposefully grown nearby in a plantation for up to 12 years, helped remove dust from the air, produced oxygen, and absorbed carbon dioxide. It will then be replaced by another tree, and the cycle continues. 

These trees are sold in special aisles of markets or supermarkets, not from the back of a truck. Also, if the tree looks too thick for its size, it might be the tip of a bigger tree and you should not buy that. Cutting the tip of a big tree from the forest makes it vulnerable to disease and most likely to die. 

If you want a natural plant, there is also the option to buy potted trees, which can be planted afterwards. Careful though, the indoor temperature is not suitable for a tree for more than a couple of weeks.

Most importantly, plastic or cut trees aren’t the only options 

In this debate about who is right and who is wrong when it comes to Christmas trees, we tend to forget the many other options out there. Any other plant can play the part. You can creatively create your own out of other items: sticks, books, lights, etc. Whichever option you choose, don’t let it go to waste. Make sure you’re going to be around to enjoy the tree. Don’t decorate one just because you must.

But is it all about the tree?

Now that you’ve chosen your type of tree, there are some other details you should keep in mind if you want an eco-friendly Christmas.

Whether you’re shopping for food, presents or decorations, buy local

Choose traditional, certified products, made locally. Support local craftsmen and artists. A large amount of resources are consumed to import goods to each of our homes and offices. 

Bring eco-bags when shopping for gifts. An estimated one trillion plastic bags are used worldwide each year and most end up in landfills. Also, think about wrapping. Printed paper wrappers comprise one of the largest Christmas wastes. Ditch the typical gift wrap and pack your gifts in old gift bags, cloth bags, canvas bags, newspapers, magazines, and glass jars. If you want to skip transport and wrapping all together, consider donating and supporting an NGO of your choice – with a monthly donation. 

Lights and décor

Make your own decorations and spend more time with family and friends if you know your way around scissors and paper.  Let children create decorations using household items. If possible, use LED Christmas lights with timers. Energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode) Christmas lights are up to 90% more efficient than regular tungsten bulbs.

Party without plastic and without food waste

Going home for Christmas? Think about your transport options. Personal mobility makes up 17% of humanity’s carbon footprint, according to the Global Footprint  Network (GFN).

Hosting this year’s Christmas party? Think ahead and plan your meals. This will help nature, because you won’t be adding to your carbon footprint through food waste. But most of all, you will not waste time, for extra food that would end up in the bin. 

According to the GFN, about one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption — 1.3 billion tonnes every year — gets lost or wasted. That’s equivalent to 9% of humanity’s Ecological Footprint. Also, whenever possible, use reusable and washable party plates, cups, and utensils.

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