I've been thinking about how to make our Christmas more earth friendly. We're not exactly riotous consumers, buying a bunch of stuff we don't need, and we're thrifty at home, but I still think we can do better in some areas. For instance: Which tree is better, a fresh-cut real tree or a fake one that you can re-use? Are there organic Christmas tree farms? Is there a better, less wasteful option for wrapping gifts? Can you purchase recycled cards?
CHRISTMAS TREES: Let's tackle this question first. For this one, I turned to Nature Conservancy, who spelled it out clearly: Real trees are better for the environment than fake, and there are lots of reasons why. Fake trees are often made in China and then shipped here - two strikes against them, because it's not a local product, and it takes a lot of energy to get the trees here (and also, not a rabbit hole I wanted to go down, but there is some suspicion about the wellbeing of factory workers in China). Also there is some evidence that damaging invasive species are being found in overseas fake trees. Studies seem to show that most folks use a fake tree for 3-5 years before trashing it, because it looks so bad after storage, and there's nowhere to put those trees but in the landfill. However if you already own a fake tree, the best thing to do is to store it carefully and use it for as long as you possibly can (Nature Conservancy says to use it at least ten years).
Alternatively, a real tree, while growing, provides absorption of carbon out of the atmosphere, and there is an awful lot of acreage sunk into Christmas tree farms, which provides an awful lot of carbon absorption! In cut-your-own farms, there are 1-3 seedlings growing to replace every tree cut down. Also, a cut-your-own farm is eminently local. And, the tree can be composted in your yard afterward, or chipped for mulch, since you know its origin. If you buy an already-cut tree, try to find as local a source as you can. Here in CA, most of our cut trees come from Oregon and Washington, which is ok, but not great as they still have to be trucked here and may harbor invasive species from those other regions. So if you buy a cut tree, the best thing to do with it after Christmas is let your local company pick it up and use it in city-or-county-wide composting programs. I assume that most places have a special pick-up for trees that goes directly to these composting programs, but if that's not available in your area, you're going to have to research a better option than just throwing it in the landfill.
If you have the space and inclination, a live, growing tree would be your best bet. It's especially fun for children to have a tree in their yard that started out as their holiday tree. When our kids were born, we bought a live tree on each of their first Christmases, and planted it, and always told them it was 'their tree.' The downside to this practice is that folks move. We did, and the kids have totally forgotten about their trees. However, every so often, we drive by the old house and look to see how much they've grown!
As for organic Christmas tree farms, there's a great resource HERE. The options are, sadly, few.
GIFT WRAP: When I was in my early 20's, I worked at a Mail Boxes Etc store in Lafayette CA (they've all converted, now, to UPS stores). One of the services we provided was gift wrap, and a surprising number of people came to us for this. Christmastime was extremely busy - there were many well-to-do ladies who went shopping, bought all their gifts, and then brought the piles to us, to gift wrap and ship for them. I kind of hated Christmas in those years because the lines were often out the door and our hands ached from making bows, and our fingers had all kinds of cuts from the ribbons. Ouch! But one thing that did for me was make me appreciate a well-wrapped gift. I like thick, heavy paper for wrapping (it makes crisp corners), and for many years I made large, extravagant bows (still do, sometimes). But in the last few years I've been looking for less wasteful ways of making a package look pretty. Most inexpensive wrapping paper rips too easily and has kooky patterns, and while I like hemp cord for bows, it's so thin, it sort of disappears on the package. I haven't found any reasonable alternative.
One way of wrapping a package in a completely eco-friendly way is to do so with fabric, which you can reuse year after year. But honestly, I don't have a place to keep a pile of fabric through the whole year - our house is the size of a cabin and our garage is already full-to-bursting with things we absolutely need and use every day.
So I turned to recycled paper, and I found a lot of options.
Wrappily makes paper out of recycled newsprint, and if you look through all of their patterns, there are some really pretty ones.
Bambeco is a very sustainable company, and they sell all kinds of products made in the kindest possible way.
For something really elegant, check out For the Earth, which makes thick paper from plant fibers that can be reused many times, and also papers that are embedded with seeds for planting after using.
Fishlips uses 100% recycled chlorine-free paper, and soy ink. This means it can be composted after ripping it off your gift!
For ribbon, the choices are simply not as abundant. You could go with the aforementioned hemp twine, but I think I might buy some recycled yarn from Darn Good Yarn, which has some really beautiful choices. Or I might look for a local yarn made from local sheep, and colored using natural dyes. Dying yard is something I've always wanted to try.
RECYCLED CARDS: Almost every major company offers a recycled option, but I really like this company, Paper Culture, because they plant a tree for every order they receive. I so wished I had found this company before we made our holiday cards this year. I will certainly remember them for next year!
I hope all this information helps you plan your holiday in a way that doesn't hurt our environment. I'm also thinking about ways to decorate using only natural items that I've found or manipulated (such as using dried citrus slices for decorating). I'd love to hear your ideas, too!