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Keeping Christmas Green

November 26, 2019
Stew Coles
A woman prepares Christmas decorations.

Keeping Christmas Green
Reducing Your Christmas Carbon Footprint

Well, the holidays are upon us. While for many this is a season of joy and warmth, it also tends to be a season of rampant consumerism and a massive increase in the carbon footprint of the average Canadian household.

But what can you do to decrease your impact on the environment during the holiday season?

We sat down with Taryn Zuniga from the University of Saskatchewan the other day to ask her how she puts the planet first during the holidays, and here’s what she had to say!

When it comes to Christmas trees, don’t buy artificial! You might think that a plastic tree is better (because it means not cutting down another live one every year, surely!), but it really isn’t. The carbon-chain polymers in the tiny fake needles on your artificial tree have been broken down into components so small that they can’t be effectively recycled again.

In addition, it’s really hard to separate the metal bits from the plastic bits, and even harder to strip the attached Christmas lights from the body of the tree. Once that tree has been manufactured, the only place for it when it’s life is through is the landfill.

Worse still, that artificial tree is really only made to have a 7-10 year lifespan. Think on it for a second—how long have you had your current tree for?

It’s pretty likely that it’s only been a few years. Trees get a little more damaged every time you try to shove them back in the box, or they go missing when you move, or the lights all burn out and it’s time for a new one.


There is a hierarchy of ethical Christmas tree consumerism, and buying a new artificial tree should be the absolute last thing that you do. Instead:

  1. Create new traditions and go without a tree.
    • Consider replacing it with something else! Have you ever imagined your holiday season with a Festivus Pole?
  2. Buy a live tree with an attached root bulb.
    • While difficult to find, sometimes calling ahead to your tree farm of choice can be rewarding. Trees with the root bulb attached can be planted after you’re done with them and will last for decades to come as a new tree outdoors.
    • Look here and here for a directory of local trees.
  3. Buy a fresh cut tree, locally sourced.
    • You can click here and here to find the nearest tree farm to you in Saskatchewan. You can also rest assured that most trees purchased at retail locations in Saskatoon, Prince Albert, and Regina are all sourced from Canada (if not from Saskatchewan).
    • Fresh cut trees from tree farms are a great option because the farms act as habitat for wildlife while they are growing, they prevent soil erosion and act as a carbon bank, are completely biodegradable, and by purchasing a tree from your province you are supporting the local economy.
  4. Buy (or borrow, or trade) a second-hand artificial tree.
    • Take a look at your local Thrift Store (think Salvation Army, Value Village, or Village Green) for trees that have been donated and still have some life left in them. There are also plenty of trees on websites like Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace!


What about when you’re all done with that tree? How do you dispose of it properly?

  1. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to find a way to recycle an artificial tree in Saskatchewan. If you know you won’t be putting it up again next year, try:
    • Holding onto it until next November, and then either donating it to Village Green (or the second-hand store of your choice), or putting it on Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace. Make sure that your tree is going to get more use before it finds itself in the landfill for the rest of time.
    • Turning it into other Christmas decorations. If you know that tree is at the end of it’s life, get some wire cutters and a sturdy pair of pliers, and make some wreaths! They’re great gifts to give to your less upcycling-inclined friends, and they ensure that your tree will still spread some cheer even after its natural life is over.
  2. If it’s a live cut tree:
    • Take it to the local drop-off, or check if your neighbourhood has curbside pickup. The trees taken by the city are usually composted or mulched and used for landscaping right there in your neighbourhood! If you’re in Saskatoon, see this link for drop-off sites when they open.
    • If you have a wood burning stove, burn it yourself! Make that cozy Christmas feeling last a little bit longer and burn the wood that you have on hand rather than cutting down more living trees to feed the fire.
    • Mulch it yourself, and use it in your flowerbeds come spring!
    • Use the branches as a base for your new compost pile. Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean you can’t keep (or start) composting right through the winter!
    • Even if you live in a small-town community with no tree-recycling program, you can rest assured that that tree will decompose (wherever it goes), rather than just sitting in a landfill forever.
  3. If it has a root bulb, plant it! Though it can be tricky to find a tree with a live root bulb in the first place, and then even harder to dig a big enough hole in the frozen soil, planting your Christmas tree is the best way to keep Christmas green. Consider insulating the tree once it’s in the ground to avoid the shock of -40 winter after being in the warmth and comfort of your home for several weeks!


So now you know what’s up with the trees. But what about all of that other Christmas waste? If you’re in Saskatoon, click here for some info on where to recycle common Christmas waste, or here for Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council’s website where you can search just where to send the stuff that you’re done with.

  1. Wrapping paper
    • A good rule of thumb is that if you can scrunch it up, you can recycle it! Remove as much tape as you can, as well as any name tags, bows, and ribbons, and put it in the blue bin!
    • Don’t recycle plasticized gift bags! Unsure where it should go? Take a look here and be sure.
    • Wrapping gifts? Consider using paper that is made of post-consumer materials, like newsprint, or FSC certified paper. You may also be interested in wrapping the gift in a reusable cloth material.
  2. Packaging
    • As a general rule, you can recycle paper and plastic. Remember to separate and remove any small metal bits, and to check for non-recyclables that might contaminate the batch! 
  3. Household food scraps
    • Don’t have your own compost bin? Winter is no excuse not to start one while you’ve got the free time to set it up!
  4. Old strings of Christmas lights
    • While neither Sarcan nor the Blue Bin will take old lights, they can be dropped off at London Drugs in Saskatoon or Regina, and K-Light Recycling province wide.

Some other tips for keeping Christmas green:

  1. Try to repair your Christmas lights before you throw them out. On an older strand of lights, it’s often just one bulb that has burnt out and now none of them will light. Sit down with a good movie and try replacing every single bulb on the strand, one at a time!
  2. Stay away from tinsel, “snow spray,” and bags of shredded plastic snow. None of these can be recycled.
  3. Don’t leave your Christmas lights on all day every day! Only turn them on when it’s dark out and you’re actually around to enjoy them. Consider using a timer so that they’ll turn themselves off even if you forget to!
  4. While switching to LED lights is a great idea and will save energy in the long run, don’t use upgrading as an excuse to throw out what you have. Use your old lights to the end of their natural life, and then repair them and use them a little longer! Upgrade only when you absolutely must.