Wednesday, December 4, 2013

O Tannenbaum! Eco-friendly, chic decorations for the SEAson

This season, Clean Ocean Action is offering tips on how to green your holiday. Here is the first of twelve in COA's '12 Days of Green Giving' series.

O Tannenbaum!  Eco-friendly, chic decorations for the SEAson
By: Diana Reinhardt Paradis, Manager of Development and External Affairs

I love the scent of a real Christmas tree.  It makes a home feel ready for the holiday.  But what type of tree is the greenest option?   Should I purchase a natural tree or an artificial tree?  

This bulb tree might live
in your backyard for years.

When shopping for a Christmas tree, there are many factors to consider.  Natural Christmas trees are chopped down (often from Christmas tree farms) and usually shipped long distances, but forever artificial trees can contain plastic and chemicals and are often made overseas and then shipped long distances to your home. 

If you decide on a natural tree for your home, buy locally.  New Jersey is the Garden State!   There are wonderful Jersey-grown trees available.  When the holiday season is over, many towns will pick up your tree and turn it into mulch.  Trees are chipped, mixed with leaves, and recycled into rich compost for parks, institutions, and community gardens. Your tree will be part of the soil when flowers bloom this spring in your town.  Remember to remove all lights, tinsel, ornaments, the tree stand, and plastic from your tree before setting it out at the curb for collection. 

My little reindeer!
If you choose an artificial tree, make sure it becomes a family heirloom used for generations, instead of sending it to a landfill. These days, some artificial trees are sold with built-in LED lights – and LED lights save electricity.  Plus, you avoid the old, “one goes out, they all go out” light string trap!  Some of these newer trees even work by a remote control – no more stooping to ‘turn on the tree’. 

Another option is to purchase a living tree. Find a bulb tree (with the roots wrapped in burlap or other preserving fabric) at your local garden center and decorate it for the season, then plant it outdoors.  Mark a special milestone like a wedding, anniversary or the birth of a child or grandchild, or just start a new tradition.  The most successful way to bring a living tree indoors for the holiday is to keep the tree in a room that isn’t very warm (away from fireplaces and kitchens) and keep the tree well watered.  Bulb trees come in all sizes, and several smaller trees grouped together would make a stunning decoration. 

Modern d├ęcor more your style?  Use an unusual material to build your tree, like metal or cardboard.  You can also fit more ornaments on a metal tree than one with branches and can even be used for other events during the year, depending on the style. Cardboard trees can be very chic; check out sites like to be inspired by amazingly creative designs made from recycled cardboard. 

If you want to get really creative, make a tree from up-cycled, weathered wood. It may not be traditional, but it can become your new eco-friendly tradition. Or you can use the trimmings for a special display.  Last year, my husband and I built a reindeer out of the leftover stumps and branches from our live tree – and the results were adorable!  Old buttons were used for the eyes and a washer my husband had laying around made a nose for Rudolph. 

Jack Johnson’s Christmas Tree
This year, I was inspired by an article I read in Coastal Living about musician Jack Johnson’s laid back style of decorating.  A COA supporter, Jack is an active surfer living in Hawaii.  After a storm, he took his family to the beach, and found some wood and debris.

"I think it was pieces of somebody's turquoise plywood deck that had been all beaten up and washed around, so it looked really neat—it was all weather worn, and it was Kim's (Jack’s wife) favorite color, so I turned it into a tree."  The tree is now decorated with other items found on the beach by the Johnson family, which they recycled into ornaments.  You can read more about the Johnson family holiday traditions at

No matter what you choose for your home this year, you can make it greener with a little time and creativity.  

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