Would the planet be better off if we all rented our Christmas trees?
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After every Christmas season, London resident Ferenc Elekes walks around his city seeing a staggering amount of discarded Christmas trees. “The sad truth is that millions of trees are wasted each year,” he said. That’s why he rented one.
Elekes, founder of Overland, a site for travelers who drive through rough terrains and off-road trails, got his tree from Christmas on the Hill. The company delivered the tree to his home with easy-to-follow instructions on how to water and care for it. “The tree came in a pot, which in all honesty made it look even better,” he said.
All of the trees he rented in previous years “stayed strong and healthy all the way through Christmas,” he said. “And this made the whole holiday experience more magnificent. After the holidays, at the beginning of January, the service came and took the trees back.”
Christen Costa, CEO of Gadget Review, a product and services review site, began renting Christmas trees a few years ago when she first moved to Los Angeles, CA. “I found a great company that delivers your tree before Christmas, picks it up, and replants it,” she said.
“For me, it solved that pesky question of what to do with the tree after Christmas in a sustainable way.”Christen Costa
Kevin Joubin, vice president of Growth Marketing at Branded Research, Inc., rented his Christmas tree to support a local business in San Diego, CA. “Christmas is a season of giving,” he said. “As a marketing expert, I understand how difficult it is to naturally attract sales. Local small businesses should always be supported.”
More than 20 million Christmas trees
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, approximately 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year. Real Christmas trees grow in all 50 states and 80 percent of artificial trees come from China. (The National Christmas Tree Association calls live trees “real” as opposed to artificial.)
“Real Christmas trees are a green choice compared to artificial ones,” Doug Hundley, seasonal spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association, said. “Real Christmas trees are renewable and recyclable, whereas artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and some contain metal toxins such as lead.”
Currently, there is no known number of Christmas tree rentals. It’s a fairly new concept and there are more companies in the U.K. that rent Christmas trees than here in the U.S. Rent Xmas Tree’s website states, they have hundreds of trees in its forest nursery. The company began in 2009 as an alternative to cutting and destroying trees for the holidays. It’s located in California.
Size reflects cost
Small real trees cost $50 and up. Trees that are four, five, and six feet tall can cost a few hundred dollars. Renting costs run close to the price of buying one. The benefit of renting a Christmas tree is the rental company picks it up after the holiday and replants it.
Real equals green
Jason Grabosky, Ph.D., professor at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University, prefers real Christmas trees. “One of the first things people notice when they see a real tree is the smell,” he said. “Visually, it’s more aesthetically pleasing than an artificial tree. And in addition to having a lower carbon footprint, real trees can be recycled.”
‘The vast majority of municipalities pick up the trees, just like they do with the leaves in the fall, and turn the trees into wood chips or mulch,” Grabosky said.
Hundley agrees. He points to the National Christmas Tree Association’s site that states, there are more than 4,000 local Christmas tree recycling programs throughout the United States. “Some towns have programs where residents can pick up mulch to put back into their gardens,” he explained. “Others send the mulch to large commercial farms. So, it’s used, not wasted.”
“Real Christmas trees are better for the environment, than artificial ones,” Hundley said. “Renting is an interesting concept. However, financially, companies that rent Christmas trees are small businesses. They’re much smaller than the large commercial farms, which means they don’t make as much money as the larger businesses.”
Christmas tree shortage
Renting is new and most people in the states don’t know it’s an option—especially in certain parts of the country where shortages exist.
“Trees don’t just appear,” Hundley said. “It can take 10 to 12 years to grow a six-foot tree. Christmas tree growers always look ahead. They’ve got to.”
This season, there is a shortage of Christmas trees. Those mature trees planted 10 to 12 years ago suffered from recent heatwaves, wildfires, and drought. Michigan State University reported a surge in Christmas tree sales last year because most people who stayed home due to COVID-19 purchased a tree. That demand for real trees continued this year.
Real trees and wildlife
One of the most popular trees that draw thousands of tourists to New York City is the tree in Rockefeller Center. Last year, an owl hitched a ride in the tree. That tree came from upstate New York. Officials captured the owl and returned him to his home.
Most Christmas tree farms replace the trees they cut down with new seedlings. Often these trees serve as habitats for birds, insects, and other wildlife.
How you can recycle your tree
Check with your municipality about recycling and mulching programs for Christmas trees. Most towns expect its residents to place trees on the curb for curbside pickup. Remove all tinsel and decorations before placing your tree on the curb. Other options include:
- Dropping your tree off at a town recycling center. Usually there is no charge for this service.
- If your town has a recycling and mulching program, you can use that mulch in your garden.
- Some nonprofit organizations have area tree pickups. This usually costs a small donation for the nonprofit to take the tree off your hands.
- Don’t ever cut up a tree and place it in a fireplace or wood burning stove. Christmas tree needles and branches cause smoke, burn incredibly hot, and can lead to house fires.
Christmas tree lore
The Christmas tree tradition started in Germany in the 16th century and German settlers brought the tradition of having a tree in their homes to America in the mid-19th century. It was in the early 20th century that Americans decorated their trees using homemade ornaments. They strung popcorn and berries onto their trees and hung cookies from the branches.
Most holiday ornaments are plastic. Ones made of wood and recycled materials also exist.
Have a happy holiday and if you rented a tree this year, tell us about it in the comments section.