Blog #48: Christmas for CreationKeepers - Not all Christmas Trees were created equal!

December 9, 2021
Monika Weber-Fahr
Sunday, December 12, is this year’s day when it all begins: Christmas Tree sales are opening up in Vienna! On many many corners across town, sales booths will welcome you and friendly tree people will advise you on which of the trees they have may be right for you.  Living in the US, we bought our tree much much earlier, right after Thanksgiving mostly, so that we could enjoy it to the max - but Vienna has its own ways. Estimates seem to vary, but from what I can gather I conclude that, here in the city alone, somewhere between 400,000 and 570,000 trees  find their way into one household or another, and most of them are bought local, at a Standler. But what’s the environmental impact of all of this?  Is this whole Christmas Tree Industry a good or a bad thing from a planetary footprint perspective?  We looked around and found three things to consider.!
Firstly: Buying local matters and is possible here in Vienna. Well over half of the Christmas Trees sold in the city hail from the countryside around Vienna, Niederoesterreich mostly. At 160 of the 270 sales places, you can buy a tree with what’s called Herkunftsgarantie (guaranteed local denomination), just ask your salesperson. If you don’t want to buy your tree in the streets, you can also drive out and buy it directly at one of the tree nurseries or even chop it down yourself. The Austrian Association of Christmas Tree producers (yes, something like that exists) has a beautiful website where you can find locations and options: weihnachtsbaum.at. Perusing through the site you will also see that you might be able to save yourself the journey - the same people where you can buy your tree on the farm are also the people that offer the trees in town.

Foto: The Austrian Umweltberatung publishes a list of locations where you can get a ecologically grown Christmas Tree - and make no mistake, it makes a difference. 

Secondly: You can go all in and buy a tree that has been grown in ecologically mindful ways. That’s where the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizer would have been avoided, and where the right growing and harvesting methods, as well as appropriate distances between the trees limit exposure to harmful insects or other pests. And yes, the Austrian Umweltberatung has a brochure with a list of places where you can get such Eco Trees. This is not a fancy or overly woke consideration: Most Christmas Trees, whether local or otherwise, come from large monocultures. And as a beekeeper I know how bad these can be, not just for other plants but also for the animals, the soil and the water. So: finding yourself an EcoTree could be something to try this year. You can easily recognize them based on various certificates being used, amongst them Bio-Siegel, Bioland-Siegel, Naturland-Siegel, Demeter-Siegel, FSC-Siegel.
Thirdly: Plastic trees, you might have guessed it, are not the solution. But don’t they help us to not purchase and use an actual natural tree?  Reduce the demand for natural trees?  Based on what I could gather, it seems that a plastic tree needs to be re-used at least 10 if not 20 years in order to come even close to the environmental impact from purchasing and using a natural tree. There is a lot of plastic involved, and since most of the plastic trees are produced in Asia, there is transport also to be considered. But on the other hand, if you start exploring alternative options, there are tree-like decorations, made from wood, cardboard, or other more natural materials, the list of options is rather long.  
In conclusion: Affording oneself a Christmasy Tree simply is not really fabulous for the environment.  Interestingly, it makes a difference how the trees are disposed of - via landfill or via incinerator. Interestingly, using incinerators for tree-disposal generates comparatively the lowest Green House Gas impact, so we should be on the better side of things here in Vienna where the city's incineration plants have a great reputation for their low emission profile. If you do choose to get a tree this year: Don’t forget to dispose of it properly, in early January, when the city-wide tree collecting is scheduled.
So what to do? A tree-in-a-pot is of course always a solution. Or make a compromise, between your tree this year and other things you are doing in managing your impact. A promise to planet earth, to God’s creation. No better gift to give!
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