Your Complete Guide to Sustainable Christmas Tree Alternatives

Rhianna May

November 30, 2021

*This post may contain affiliate links

Christmas tree alternatives
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Christmas Tree Alternatives
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Making sustainable decisions can be confusing, especially during the busy holiday season, which is why we set out to create your Complete Guide to Sustainable Christmas Tree Alternatives.

The festive season is well and truly upon us! Alongside twinkly lights lining the streets and the smell of roasted chestnuts in the air, the season also brings with it conundrums of the sustainable kind. How can you give gifts thoughtfully that align with your values? And how can you create a festive feeling at home without contributing to all the holiday waste?

For many of us, decorating for Christmas begins with a Christmas tree.

Traditionally, that meant a trip to a local tree farm or heading to your local department store to buy a fake tree. You’d decorate it with trinkets, old and new, no doubt bringing that joyful, festive spirit to your home. As more and more of us become aware of our eco-footprint though, you might be asking yourself if these are the most sustainable options? And if they’re not, then what’s the best alternative?

This year, in the pursuit of a more thoughtful and sustainable Christmas, we set out to answer all of these questions for you! From finding out how sustainable Christmas trees really are to some of our favorite eco Christmas tree alternatives. Keep reading to find out more… Or download your very own Complete Guide to Sustainable Christmas Tree Alternatives now!



Christmas Tree Alternatives
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Are Christmas Trees Sustainable?

First thing’s first – are Christmas Trees Sustainable or not? Because if they are, what’s all the fuss about, right?Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as easy as yes or no. The carbon footprint of a Christmas tree depends on whether the tree is real or fake, where it comes from and how it is disposed of.

Are Fake Christmas Trees Sustainable?

The short answer here is no, fake Christmas trees are not sustainable. The Carbon Trust estimates that a 2-meter-tall artificial tree has a carbon footprint of 40kg.Most of those emissions come from the plastic used to make the tree, typically PVC, which is produced using fossil fuels. And unfortunately, reusing the tree for years on end isn’t a great solution.

In 2008, research by the US Environmental Agency showed that PVC, notably PVC used in fake Christmas trees, degrades quite rapidly. It can even degrade to the point of leeching harmful chemicals after 9 years of typical use.

That doesn’t mean you should immediately throw away your fake tree if you have one though! As always, the most sustainable option is to use what we already have. So, if you’ve got a beloved fake Christmas tree (that hasn’t been sitting around for too many years), go ahead and decorate it guilt free, knowing you’re not contributing to overconsumption, Then, when it comes time to dispose of it, do so thoughtfully and plan to replace it with a Sustainable Christmas Tree Alternative.

Are Real Christmas Trees Better for the Environment?

Yes, real Christmas Trees are, generally speaking, better for the environment than fake Christmas trees. This is because Christmas trees, which are typically pine or fir trees, naturally absorb CO2 and release oxygen. In theory, Christmas trees could act as a sort of carbon sink, but again, it depends on what you do with them when Christmas is over…

The Carbon Trust estimates that a real Christmas tree that ends up in landfill will emit approximately 16kg of carbon, about half that of a fake Christmas tree. If you dispose of your Christmas tree responsibly, either by burning it on a bonfire or having it chipped to become garden mulch, you can reduce the carbon footprint by up to 80%! Even better, if you choose a potted tree and are able to keep it alive, then your tree will continue to absorb CO2 over the course of its life.

So, if you have property where you can enjoy a bonfire or where you can eventually plant your tree, a real Christmas tree might be a great sustainable option for you. But what about those of us who live in cities and have limited space? Keep reading – we’ve found some incredible options for you, too!

Sustainable Alternatives to Christmas Trees: For the Green Thumbs

If you’re one of those who believe nothing beats that smell of fresh greenery, these Sustainable Alternatives to Christmas Trees are for you! Whether you’re particularly fond of the rich perfume of firs and pines or the comforting scent of rosemary, we’ve got you covered. (And if you’re not – keep scrolling! We’ve got some ideas for you, as well).

Potted Evergreen Christmas Tree

potted christmas tree
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As we said, the most sustainable option for your Christmas tree is to keep your potted tree alive and thriving. If you’ve got a green thumb and you love caring for plants, why not get yourself a small potted evergreen tree this Christmas? Just beware that potted Christmas trees shouldn’t be kept inside for more than 7 days! After that, they’ll get too used to the indoor heat and won’t survive the cooler outdoor temperatures.

Rosemary Christmas Tree

rosemary christmas tree
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If you’re not so sure about a little potted Christmas tree, you could try a rosemary tree. Rosemary can grow indoors and outdoors, nd it is easy to prune so you can even shape it like a Christmas tree. And of course, you can use your rosemary plant as the season goes on to season your favorite warming wintery meals. I personally decorate our little rosemary tree every year on the balcony!

Hanging Christmas Branch

For those of you keen for a little DIY and a little foraging, you could try creating a festive hanging branch instead of a tree. Head to your local park or woodland, and search for a branch that’s already fallen to the ground. Hang it from the ceiling using twine, fishing line, or whatever else you have handy, and decorate it to add that festive touch.

Decorate a Tree or Plant You Already Have

Of course, the most sustainable option is always to use what we already have. So, if you’ve already got indoor plants at home, you could simply decorate one of those. Bring some festive spirit to your home by adding sweet decorations to your favorite indoor plant and pack the decorations away again when Christmas is over (or you know, keep them up all year! Whatever makes you happy!).

Rent a Christmas Tree

Not convinced by any of our Sustainable Alternatives to Christmas Trees? Or perhaps you just are really do love getting your tree every year… We get it! Part of the magic of the holiday season is bringing back old traditions and the nostalgia of that pine smell. The good news is, around the world, Christmas tree rentals are becoming surprisingly common.

In fact, this is what Atelier Glenn recommends to her interior design clients. “Myself and so many of my clients love the nostalgia of finding the perfect tree, from shape to size to type. I love that they care for the tree throughout the year and that you can rent the same tree again Christmas after Christmas. It adds another layer of nostalgia to such a beautiful time of year.”

Basically, Christmas Tree farmers have realized that so many of us are searching for more sustainable alternatives – and that discarding a living tree at the end of each holiday season can be a little melancholy! So, they offer a service where you can ‘rent’ the same tree each year, for up to 7 years. They’ll care for the tree from January to November, and ensure it comes back to you in top condition for Christmas. Once the tree grows too large, they plant it in the forest where it can live a long, happy life.

For a full list of Christmas Rental Farms, download our free guide to Sustainable Christmas Trees!


Sustainable Alternatives to Christmas Trees: For the Crafters

If you have particular design sensibilities or would love to get crafty (or if you just don’t have a green thumb), then check out our Christmas tree alternatives for crafters. These Sustainable Alternatives to Christmas Trees include options perfect for minimalists and maximalists and everything in-between! Better yet, they involve no extra care once they’re done.

Ladder Christmas tree

christmas tree ladder
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Image by Instructables

Have you got an old ladder lying around? Open it up, cover it in decorations, and there you have it!! A sustainable Christmas tree! We’ve seen so many versions of this – some wrap the ladder in lights, others hang their lifelong collection of festive decorations from each step. You could even place boards across the steps and cover these in foraged greenery and presents. Added bonus: it’s a great way to keep presents out of reach of curious little hands and the mouths of furry friends!

Driftwood Christmas tree

Christmas tree alternative made from sticks
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Okay, while this is usually called a Driftwood Christmas Tree, it’s basically just a Christmas tree alternative made out of spare sticks. You could collect them on the beach, from your local park or in a wilderness area (as long as you do it responsibly!). Stack the sticks one on the other, starting with the longest and ending with the smallest, to create your ‘tree’. If you’re a minimalist, you can leave it as is for a beautiful, minimal, sustainable Christmas tree alternative.

But of course, you can also go crazy with your favorite decorations!

Book Christmas tree

Christmas tree made of books
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If you’re still a fan of old-fashioned paper books, now’s your chance to put them to use. Stack books in a conical shape, wrap them with your old twinkly lights and adda star or a pinecone on top. Just like that, you’ve got yourself a sustainable Christmas tree adding a little festive spirit to your home.

Vase of Branches

sticks in vase christmas tree alternative
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The Vase of Branches ‘tree’ is sort of a lite version of the Driftwood Christmas tree. Instead of having to figure out how to stack one branch on top of another, you can simply place them in a large vase and decorate them as you wish! In the end, all it needs to add some Christmas joy and nostalgia is a beautiful decoration or three.

Wall Art Christmas Tree

child drawing a christmas tree on wall
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This one is an amazing Sustainable Christmas Tree Alternative if you have kids who love to get crafty. Lay out an old bed sheet, or piece together large sheets of cardboard, and draw your Christmas tree. They could use whatever crafty bits you have lying around to stick things on or to paint decorations. Once it’s ready, simply hang it from the wall and you’ll have your very own wall art Christmas tree. This is a great option if you have limited space. It will simply hang flat against the wall during the holiday season, and then you can fold it up and put it away for the next

Mobile Christmas Tree

christmas tree mobile with green and silver decorations
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Image by NotMartha

For something three-dimensional and a little unexpected, create your very own mobile Christmas tree. You can do this with literally whatever material you want! Pieces of green card, an old collection of Christmas baubles that you’ve had for years, old pieces of tinsel, foraged leaves, or sticks or whatever else comes to mind. Simply hang these at different levels to create your ideal Christmas tree shape.

At the end of the day, you can basically turn anything and everything into a Christmas tree. We’ve even seen some Christmas trees made out of old green bottles and wine corks! All that matters if that you use what you already have and add decorations that you & your family will love.

Would you like to recreate one of our Christmas Tree Alternatives but you’re not sure how?

We’ve created a free download especially for you with instructions on how to create each tree.


Have you got another Sustainable Christmas Tree Alternative you love? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know in the comments below!

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