“Is my Christmas tree vegan?”
This question popped into my head after repotting my live Christmas tree last week. It had already outgrown its pot! I got to thinking about the fact that after this holiday season is over, my tree will go on living and growing, and will likely be adorned again in the future with ornaments made by members of my family who have long since passed.
Veganism is defined as “the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals,“ so it’s kind of difficult to justify putting a plant, a tree, under the label of veganism, as plants are all vegans feel comfortable consuming. But if veganism teaches us anything, it’s that we should use the planet’s resources wisely, only what we truly need to survive. Do we need to cut down trees in order to survive? Of course not, but do Christmas tree farms create a net positive for the Earth?
I decided to begin doing some research into the business of Christmas tree production. These are my findings.
Fake plastic trees
If you’re looking for a healthy, planet-friendly option this year, the fake Christmas tree is not for you. Fake trees are cheap and reusable, but they are often made from plastic polyvinyl chloride, otherwise known as PVC, and the toxic chemical dioxin is released during the production of PVC. If the tree were to catch on fire, it would burn and emit said dioxin. PVC also contains phthlates, which are known to be hormone-disrupting. Many are also coated in lead paint. That’s not exactly something I want in my home!
Additionally, plastic trees usually only last about 5-8 years and cannot be recycled. When they end up in the landfill, they leach lead, mercury, and other harmful toxins into the soil, which finds its way into our aquifers. In some countries, plastic trees get incinerated with garbage, contributing to air pollution, asthma, and lung disease.
Most of the trees are manufactured overseas as well, so you contribute nothing to your local economy.
Do not ever get a fake plastic Christmas tree.
Easy as that.
Live, cut trees.
Starting in the 1850s, Christmas trees were harvested from forests. Here’s the good news: almost no Christmas trees come from the forest anymore. They come almost exclusively from Christmas tree plantations located in your area.
By buying a live tree, you support local farmers, local jobs, and at the end of the season, the trees can be mulched up and reused to feed future generations of trees.
In Louisiana, conservation groups even use dead Christmas trees to bolster coastal wetlands that have been eroded by hurricanes. In Illinois, they are used to provide habitats for herons.
Real Christmas trees also support local wildlife, absorb carbon dioxide, and emit oxygen. All pluses. These trees are also often grown in soil that doesn’t support other crops.
So is there a downside?
Real trees come with their own sets of issues. Many have pest problems and are grown with heavy pesticide use. The most common is Monsanto’s Roundup, which is toxic to birds, fish, and even humans. The EPA has banned the use of some pesticides used on Christmas trees, but not all of them.
Of the two, real trees are the winner.
But there’s still a third option.
Live, potted Christmas trees.
Live potted trees can be purchased at a local nursery, it’s easier to figure out if they’ve been grown organically or with pesticides, and is the most environmentally sustainable choice of the three, period.
While about 50 million Christmas trees are recycled each year, 150 million end up in the garbage, take up valuable space in landfills, and contribute to excessive waste. 15 million are incinerated, contributing directly to climate change and air pollution. 20 million get illegally dumped.
With a live, potted tree, they may be small the first year but they grow over time. Mine tacks on about a foot every year. Some grow faster, some are slower. If it gets too big, you can opt to find a good place to plant it and then get another potted Christmas tree. This is a net gain for the environment! Plus you have the added benefit of creating a special memory that’ll last a lifetime and you teach your kids the importance of planting trees and caring for the Earth.
Live Christmas trees contribute to better indoor air quality as well and can be kept inside year round or left outside when the season is over.
Smaller potted trees are also great if you live in an apartment and don’t have that much space.
So wait, is my Christmas tree vegan?
It’s hard to say for sure. It depends on whether or not you consider the lives of trees valuable, not simply for the sake of human use, but intrinsically valuable. Is it fair to reject the commodity status of trees as well? Vegans eat and use no animal products as an act of compassion – they argue it’s because we don’t need to use them. But do we really needlarge, dying Christmas trees in our homes?
Probably not. We’d be doing the world a favor if we didn’t.