5 Sustainable Christmas Tree Alternatives

This post is co-written by GNVCompost Community Outreach Intern Krissy Olson and Content Manager Gretchen Berisford.

Source:There are many things about the holidays to be excited for, among them the sweet aromas, the Pumpkin Spice lattes, the meals and traditional foods shared with family, and the holiday lighting decorations that some people go absolutely crazy about.

Although the winter season is filled with various cultural holidays with distinct traditions, most of us can appreciate the beautiful Christmas trees that light up front windows, shopping areas, and parks all over the community.

But have you ever wondered about where your Christmas tree comes from? Or about the environmental impact of your tree?

At first glance, a faux Christmas tree may appear a better choice than a real tree because it prevents a tree from getting cut down, right? Not so much. This is a common misconception, and it boils down to the lifetime and source of both tree options.

The petroleum-based substances (plastic) that make up fake Christmas trees are unsustainable at every level of production and lead to the degradation of our natural environment.

The extraction, processing and manufacturing of these products, 85 percent of which are made in China, are far worse than cutting down a tree whose purpose is to be cut down.

Research shows that a consumer would have to use a faux Christmas tree 20 times in order for it to have a lower carbon footprint than cutting down one tree annually.

Our mission for the holidays (and everyday!) is to divert as much waste as possible out of the landfill. Unfortunately, the landfill is exactly where the majority of plastic trees end up. Most of them are made out of PVC, a hazardous material that doesn’t break down.

Buying a tree locally from various organizations like churches and schools is a good option for purchasing live trees. It keeps the trees in the community, financially supports members of the community, and you get to have the fabulous pine aroma waft through your house all season long.

Some Christmas trees come potted, in which case you can replant it and save it for next year! There’s a sense of gratitude that comes with the feeling of knowing your tree is compostable or can live on without damaging the earth. (More to come on how to get rid of your holiday tree responsibly.)

It’s great to support the local community, but research shows that cutting down trees really isn’t the most sustainable option either due to the intense agricultural practices behind tree farming.

On a hunt for the most sustainable Christmas trees, we’ve come up with a list of not-so-conventional trees. If neither the fake or real tree satisfy your eco-consciousness, here are 5 sustainable, unconventional and just plain fun Christmas tree ideas for a greener holiday season:

Source: Treeman Blog

1. Source: Plantman

1. Use any type of potted plant and plant it after the holidays. This is probably the most sustainable option for Christmas trees. Try getting something like rosemary or a small citrus tree, plant it and enjoy it forever! You can find all sorts of mini-Christmas tree worthy plants at the many nurseries in Gainesville like Garden Gate Nursery. Check out our Soil Food products while you’re there. Adding your new plant to the garden after the holidays is perfect timing for spring. You can also find smaller standard trees, like Douglas Firs, that come in pots equipped for replanting. Rosemary trees of various sizes are available at Lucky’s Market on NW 13th Street. Fruit trees like pears, mulberries, nectarines and figs are also available at Garden Gate Nursery at NW 43rd Street.


2. Source: Live Colorful Blog

2. Create your own upcycled Christmas tree. This cardboard tree is made from recycled materials and even better, is again recyclable! If you paint the tree, be sure to use biodegradable paints. This is a fun idea if you have younger kids and a unique way to introduce them to sustainable crafting. Click here to learn how on this DIY blog, Live Colorful.


3. Source: Turtles & Tails Blog

3. Wall art Christmas tree. This tree wall art uses branches from outside. If you can’t find branches, you could also just use a string of lights to make a tree, hang the ornaments, or even add ribbon or garland. This saves space and allows you to have a “tree” that’s really simple and waste free. Click here to learn how from the DIY blog, Turtles & Tails.


4. Source: Green Moxie Blog

4. The book Christmas tree. This unconventional tree is for those of us that have a LOT of books, or if you don’t have that many, you can always make a smaller one. Just start stacking the books in a large circle, getting smaller with every row, and add lights. You can also go to thrift stores and find books for as little as 25 cents, if you need to fill in some gaps! If you’re looking for some well-priced, gently used Christmas decor, check out the Repurpose Project’s craft section. It’s huge!


5. Source: Pretty Prudent Blog

5. The living succulent Christmas tree. A personal favorite for us, this adorable tree is the succu-lovers ultimate holiday dream. It’s gorgeously ornamented with succulent buds and lasts all year long! Click here to watch a DIY video on how to make a living succulent tree, courtesy of the Pretty Prudent Blog. If you’re not willing to trim your own succulents and want to purchase more, there are always multiple vendors selling them for good prices at the Downtown Gainesville Farmer’s Market.


Thanks for reading, and please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any suggestions on sustainable holiday decor!

Happy Holidays,

Krissy Olson & Gretchen Berisford

To learn more about bike-powered food waste diversion in Gainesville, FL, click here.

Thanks for reading,
Krissy Olson

About the Author

Krissy studies Sustainability in the Built Environment at the University of Florida. Her love for organic gardening and support for local food systems grew through her studies and Community Supported Agriculture. Krissy is the Community Outreach Coordinator at Gainesville Compost.