Alive or artificial: how to celebrate Christmas without harming the environment

Elegant Christmas tree is a traditional symbol of the holiday. With the spread of the idea of conscious consumption and the concept of zero waste, many began to try to celebrate the holidays so as not to cause irreparable damage to the environment. We asked the World Wildlife Fund and eco blogger Elena Volodina, what tree is more environmentally friendly, what is it better to decorate with and how to dispose of it correctly when the weekend ends.

Is it eco-friendly to buy an artificial Christmas tree?

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In an effort to save a living tree, choosing an artificial Christmas tree seems to be logical, but are they so harmless? Not really. Independent expert reviews of scientists say that in order for an artificial Christmas tree to cover all the damage that enterprises cause to nature during their production, it must last at least 20 years. For such a long time, artificial tree will lose its attractive appearance. Most likely, it will crumple, fade and thin out – therefore, people change them much more often.

When choosing an artificial Christmas tree, you need to pay attention to the plastic of which it’s made: some of its types can emit dangerous substances. Interestingly, now manufacturers have begun to make artificial Christmas trees that smell like real ones. It’s not yet clear for what period such a flavoring is enough, but the idea is interesting.

If you buy an artificial Christmas tree not every year, take care of it and dispose of it properly, the harm can be minimized. By the way, some ecologists advise to refuse the personal car or buying plastic-wrapped products for a week. This will be able to cover the damage that the production of one Christmas tree causes to nature, if you are tormented by a sense of guilt for buying a holiday symbol.

Is it eco-friendly to cut down trees?

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This may seem strange, but this option is really more environmentally friendly. Even the Greenpeace recommends putting a live Christmas tree at home. Only not any will do. It’s important to make sure that the tree was grown in a special reserve, and a new one will plant in its place soon.

Wfc.tv editors addressed this issue to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of Russia. And that's the answer we got:

Contrary to popular belief, buying live spruce, if it was specially grown for sale, is more environmentally friendly than plastic one. Live Christmas trees are grown in special nurseries or grow in forest areas under power lines, where by law all trees are still subject to felling. Sometimes, you can find trees with roots at Christmas tree markets, which after the holidays can be planted back in the ground, although they don’t always manage to take root after re-planting. Felled Christmas trees after the holidays can be turned over for processing. 

The energy costs for the production and transportation of artificial Christmas trees from China, where they are produced the most, are very high. As a result, even taking into account that an artificial tree is used for an average of 5-6 years, CO2 emissions from the use of a livng Christmas tree are still almost 3.5 times less. So, the choice in favor of live Christmas trees is obvious. The main thing here is not to encourage loggers-poachers and always ask for documents when buying.   

How to properly dispose of Christmas trees?

In big cities, special reception centers for live Christmas trees are opened immediately after the holidays - in the future they will be processed into fertilizer for soil, which will help grow dozens of other trees. While artificial Christmas trees need to be thrown out only in special containers for plastic.

Elena Volodina, journalist, ecoblogger @joecooker, author of " Zen in the big city»

It makes sense to buy a live spruce in an official place only when you also properly dispose of it. If you throw it in a regular container, the greenhouse effect will increase. According to Greenpeace, "a two-meter tree, decomposing in a landfill, will emit 16 kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere – the same as the production of 160 paper cups”. Last year, from January till March urban clauses reception Christmas trees were organized in Moscow (although, according to public control, on fact, not all of them were working). They helped to collect 26 thousand Christmas trees – this is not much, considering the entire population of the capital, but at the same time 3-4 times more than in 2018.

What does the process of processing Christmas trees look like? They are crushed, and the resulting chips can be used as fertilizer and for landscaping parks.

Artificial Christmas trees are more difficult to disposal of – if we look at the composition, for example, of IKEA Christmas trees, we’ll see different materials: polypropylene, steel, PET and polyethylene base. This is a combination of different types of materials that can not be separated from each other. And these materials will be different in the Christmas trees of different manufacturers, so that the processor will never know for sure what it’s made of. Therefore, the main advice that can be given when buying an artificial Christmas tree is to use it as long as possible, wipe with a dry cloth from dust and carefully disassemble and fold. From my past polluting life, artificial Christmas tree is my eco sin. I bought it a few years ago, because after moving, the nearest Christmas market was too far away, and it became difficult and uncomfortable to carry a tree to the house by myself. Now, I understand that it would be more environmentally friendly to stop at the option with live branches of fir trees – as a child, we put spruce paws in a ceramic jug and dressed them up with toys and tinsel in the same way.

Are there eco-friendly Christmas toys?

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In order not to aggravate environmental problems, activists recommend to abandon tinsel and plastic Christmas toys and decorate the tree with organic materials – for example, cones, nuts in shells, or dried fruits and flowers. We’ve already learned from professional decorators what styles will be on-trend this year and where to find inspiration to decorate the Christmas tree.

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A great option will be glass jewelry, which can be found in vintage stores, as well as toys made of wood, metal or clay. Choose better options that can last several years, and not fall apart after the first holidays.

How can we replace a Christmas tree?

Some stores sell small potted Christmas trees that can be decorated for the New year, and plant back in the forest in spring or leave in the apartment. Also, instead of a whole Christmas tree, you can buy several branches and put them in the center of the table – most often such bouquets are collected from branches that have already fallen away. After the holidays, they will be easier to dispose of them, and the aroma of pine needles will still be felt in the apartment.

Some professionals advise to decorate your houseplants for the holidays. Especially for this, you can buy a larger flower, such as ficus, and successfully dress it up every year.

Eco-activists offer a new festive trend: if you still can’t completely abandon the tree, decorate a tree that grows in the forest or near the house.  After the holidays, all toys and tinsel, of course, will need to be removed.  But you will present a festive mood not only to yourself, but also to the people around you.

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