Nothing says “Christmas is here!” like setting up the tree and covering it in sparkly lights and baubles.
But as environmental and climate awareness grows, many people are starting to look around for alternatives.
One seemingly obvious substitute is the artificial tree. But it’s not as eco-friendly as it might seem. Hugely popular in some parts of the world, and designed to look like the real thing, their fake needles are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which can take hundreds of years to break down. In fact, you’d have to use your plastic Christmas tree for 20 years for it to be as environmentally-friendly as using a real one just once.
But an all-natural approach to the Christmas centerpiece is also not without drawbacks. It still involves felling a tree only to throw it in the chipper a few weeks later.
In the US alone, between 25 and 30 million real Christmas trees are sold every year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. While in Germany, around 27 million are felled for festivities each year.
Luckily, there are plenty of other options if you want to have an eco-friendly Christmas. Here are a few of our favorites.
Read more: Forget a white Christmas, make it green
‘Adopt’ or rent a tree
Love the sight and smell of a real tree but can’t bear the thought of chopping one down? Renting a tree might be for you. An increasing number of companies around the world are offering this special Christmas service, including WunderTree in Berlin. These companies grow trees year-round and rent them out during the holiday season. Each tree is carefully removed from the ground and potted before being delivered.
You can still decorate your “adopted” tree to the nines — and once the festive season is over, the company will pick it up and replant it. Some companies even let you rent the same tree every year, so you can watch it grow over time. This has the double benefit of avoiding the pollution associated with burning or composing a felled tree, plus it can spend the rest of its natural life absorbing CO2.
If you’re a bookworm — or a librarian — this can be a fun way to show off your impressive collection and get into the festive spirit. Arrange some books in a circle on the floor (the biggest ones work best for this part), then just keep stacking volumes on top of each other. Move inwards until you’ve made a cone-shape. Add a few embellishments like some tinsel and a star up top and voila! You have your very own, eco-friendly book tree.
You’ll probably notice more empty bottles than usual piling up around the holidays. But instead of tossing them into bin right away, you can fashion an entire “tree” out of your empties! The tree can be as big or small as you like — depending on how many bottles you have to spare. You can even collect the bottles from around your neighborhood and set up a giant green bottle tree. Plus, it’s a timely reminder to reuse and recycle during the festive season. Cheers to that!
Read more: Making my Christmas green
You can also easily turn a ladder into a Christmas tree — it’s already the right shape after all! Set it up wherever you like and string it with lights and other Christmas-y trimmings. You can fill the entire inside of the ladder with ornaments, or keep it minimalist. If you’re a fan of the rustic look, this could be the alternative Christmas tree for you.
2D wall art tree
Not quite sure what to do with that blank space of wall? Why not gather up all those little trinkets or decorations you have lying around and hang them in the shape of a Christmas tree. You can make it as flamboyant or as simple as you like. If you don’t have much in the way of decorations, you can even use spare tools, like the “tree” pictured above. The sky’s the limit, really. You’ll be doing your bit for the environment by using stuff you already have — and you save on floor space.
Use a tree you already have
Who says Christmas trees need to be conifers? Grab those decorations and deck out your favorite tree or pot plant. There are no rules for this one — it can be anything from a fern to a bonsai to a prickly cactus. And if you want to think bigger, you could even string some lights and tinsel on a tree in the garden for the whole neighborhood to admire.
Bits ‘n’ bobs tree
Anyone keen to showcase their DIY skills, can start from scratch and make a Christmas tree with, well, practically anything. From precision-placed newspapers, to hoops of cardboard connected with fishing line, anything seems to go. All it takes is imagination and whatever you choose to use. This tree is based around a broomstick, which serves as the trunk, while slats of wood — painted green, of course — become the branches. It might not smell like the real thing, but it doesn’t shed needles, doesn’t droop and will last a lifetime of Christmases.