Greening the Christmas Tree

Following on from our first blog post in our series about planning a greener Christmas, today Tracy turns her attention to the Christmas tree.

Christmas isn’t really Christmas without a fully decorated and twinkling tree in the corner of the living room, right? Without a tree, where are we going to put all those great Christmas gifts that we talked about in our last post? But have you ever stopped to think about the impact of that tree?

Growing up, my family had one of those big dark green plastic trees. Every year it was hauled out of the garage together with the box of decorations to be unpacked and assembled. As we got older, it became less of an event - the tree started looking a bit thin and scraggly, the strings of lights stopped working, the tinsel fell apart and we got bored with the same old decorations. One year we just didn’t put it up at all. We decorated the room with pointsettias and a small potted cypress tree with an angel on top.

I don’t actually know what happened to that plastic tree, but I’m guessing it probably ended up on a landfill because recycling didn’t exist then. Not that it would have helped. According to, despite artificial trees being made from PVC, they are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable. The older ones, probably like what we had, even had lead in them. Not great for the environment.

South Africa doesn’t have the ‘traditional’ Christmas tree alternative that is so prevalent in the US and Europe – where you can go and buy a pre-cut tree that was specially grown for the occasion. So while there are a lot of artificial vs farmed tree arguments out there, we sort of skip that all together.

But that doesn’t mean that we should stick with our plastic trees which have probably come all the way from China with a nice big carbon footprint*. There are other options worth investigating:

A real tree – most of our indigenous trees don’t look anything like the typical European pine Christmas tree, that doesn’t mean they can’t do a sterling job anyway! I suggest that you visit your local indigenous nursery and get a live tree in a bag – decorate it for Christmas and then plant it out in your garden in January, so that you can enjoy it all year around.

A recycled tree – there are some fabulous examples of Christmas trees that have been made from recycled materials. Plastic bottles, books, even car tires and hubcaps can, and have, been made into alternative trees. Take a look at our pinterest page for more imaginative ideas. At the end of the season, you can simply dismantle and take it to the recycling centre!

A wooden tree – there’s a new trend to have trees made out of wood – either new or reused – which don’t take up too much space in smaller spaces. Some are 3D, others literally hang up on a wall. Quite minimalist, natural and chic, plus it can be kept and reused for years.

A cardboard tree – another trend is to go for a cardboard or paper tree. Pre-cut into either a  ‘traditional’ shape of a tree or stylised pattern, these trees are usually smaller, but great for setting up on a table or side-board and can still be decorated. These can also be kept and reused for many more Christmases, but if you decide you want an updated one at least you know you can recycle this guy without any trouble.

So what tree are you going with this year? Do let us know in the comments below and feel free to send us your pictures – we’d love to see!

* PS:  if you already own a plastic tree – you might as well keep it and keep using it until it really can’t be used anymore, or until someone figures out how to recycle them! 

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