Holiday Trees & The Environment

As we approach the winter holidays, many traditions such as tree picking commence. These holiday months have a big negative impact on the environment and many people don’t realize it. Every year, people take advantage of holiday sales such as black Friday and therefore increase our carbon footprint by 6% more than the rest of the year. 

City of Seattle and Boy Scout troops are recycling Christmas trees. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

The most impactful action is the cutting down of millions of holiday trees. These trees, often pines, take years to grow to the desired height and are then cut down and thrown away. According to The impact of natural christmas trees on the environment, “it is estimated that annually, around 33 to 36 million Christmas trees are produced and cut in the US and 50-60 million in Europe” (Farr, 2022). One cannot stop but wonder what are the environmental effects of this? 

When growing holiday trees not native to the land, farmers are required to use pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, non-native dirt and other substances that can harm the surrounding environment, disrupting the balance. These non-native substances are invasive to the area if the trees being grown are not meant for that soil. Another major environmental impact is these non-native trees stealing resources from native ones and disrupting the biodiversity in that area. The biggest is the endangerment of some conifer species. Deforestation throughout the years has proved to impact the conifer species all over the world. The high demand for these trees has forced farmers to grow them in compacted areas, causing trees to compete with each other for space to grow. Members of the non-profit Global Trees Campaign have established that there are over 200 species of conifers that are facing extinction (Farr, 2022).  Holidays are not the only cause of this issue but are a contributing factor.

Holiday trees that are not responsibly recycled often end up in landfills, where they will decompose and start producing methane, an odorless gas that severely impacts our health.

Therefore the question remains, what can you do to minimize this impact?

Do your research! Before heading out to buy a tree, do your research on the farm or store you will be getting your tree from. Look for responsible farms that take into account the impact on the environment, implement environmental policies and that use little to no pesticides (Farr, 2022). Many of these farms are carefully grown to reduce the impact on the environment as much as they can. However, this is not a guarantee that the people buying them will dispose of them properly, so here are some helpful tips for recycling your tree!

How to Responsibly Recycle your Tree

  • Replant! Many trees come with intact roots that can be replanted once the holidays are over. Farms sometimes rent trees that when returned are replanted
  • Make use of all the parts of the tree. Use the trunk as decoration.
  • Create a DYI project with the wood
  • Redecorate the tree for birds
  • Use branches for arrangements
  • Chop branches into mulch for acid loving plants
  • Shred branches and use them to cover paths
  • Use wood as firewood for your fireplace or a bonfire
  • Create mulch for your garden
  • Use pine needles for scent + create aroma bags
  • Research places near you that take cut or used holiday trees

If you reside within Champaign city or Urbana, here are some resources for where to recycle your tree this fall and winter!

City of Champaign Fall Yard Waste Collection 2022
City of Urbana Holiday Tree Collection Schedule 2023

References

Boldan, M. L. (1990). Old tree, new year. Mother Earth News126, 14.

Clarridge, C. (2017, January 3). Here’s where you can recycle your christmas tree. The Seattle Times. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://www.seattletimes.com/life/heres-where-you-can-recycle-your-christmas-tree/

Farr, C., & Carmen. (2022, May 2). The impact of natural christmas trees on the environment. AgronoMag. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://agronomag.com/impact-christmas-trees-environment/

Jescavage-Bernard, K. (1988). Eight Ways to Recycle Your Christmas Tree. Organic Gardening (08973792)35(12), 78–80.

Holiday tree collection schedule. Holiday Tree Collection Schedule | City of Urbana. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2022, from https://urbanaillinois.us/residents/recycling-program-u-cycle/holiday-tree-collection-schedule

Yard waste. City of Champaign. (2022, September 7). Retrieved November 16, 2022, from https://champaignil.gov/public-works/find-a-service/yard-waste/

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