Residential - Tips & tricks - Dreaming of a

Christmas is just around the corner, and you’re looking forward to enjoying the Holiday season with your loved ones. Decorating the tree, wrapping gifts, enjoying festive meals in good company: the season abounds with joyous occasions. All the same, many of them can be damaging for the environment...

O Tannenbaum
Today’s popular Christmas tree species range from fir to spruce, pine or even small leafy trees (often painted white). Artificial trees are also common—but just how “green” are they, really? Artificial trees are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other non-recyclable plastics, and a lot of energy goes into their production and importation. If you are into replacing your artificial tree every two or three years, a natural tree is your best bet.

Yes, but … cut down a tree?
There you are at the Christmas tree lot, facing yet another choice: a wild or cultivated tree. Cultivated trees are grown with one specific aim: to be cut down and sold for Christmas. What’s more, for every tree that comes down, 10 replacement trees are planted. Generally available for between $40 and $125 (depending on their origin), they offer the advantage of having grown in a controlled environment, which ensures a more regular, conical form. Some merchants also sell semi-cultivated varieties. Somewhat less expensive, semi-cultivated trees are trimmed less frequently as they grow. Wild trees, in turn, grow in a natural environment and are often the product of clear-cutting, a practice that’s extremely detrimental for the environment.

Whether you opt for cultivated or semi-cultivated, you’ll want to check your tree’s freshness.  Just grasp a branch between your thumb and index finger and pull it toward you. A fresh tree won’t shed more than five to ten needles when grasped.

Also, although using a potted live tree from a natural setting and putting it back outdoors after the Holiday period may seem environmentally friendly, this is not at all the case! The Montreal Botanical Garden explains that this would deprive the tree of a beneficial period of dormancy. Moreover, even if the tree managed to adapt to the indoor climate and lighting, it would probably suffer from shock when being returned outdoors because of the temperature difference. This could well be its death warrant.

A tree that’s well located ...
Once you’ve brought your tree home, you may not want to decorate it straight away. If that’s the case, store it in a sheltered, unheated spot. When you’re ready to put it up, choose a spot as far as possible from any heat source—radiator, air outlet, baseboard heater, fireplace, stove, etc., all of which can dry out your tree and render it more flammable.

... and given lots of water
The type of stand you use is not all that important, provided it’s sufficiently strong and can hold up to six litres of water. Before putting up the tree, cut two centimetres off the trunk so that the water can be absorbed better. On the first day, your tree will drink up to four litres of water. After that, you’ll need to add about one litre a day. Ensure that your tree never goes without water for more than two hours!

The cypress and Norfolk pine are the “greenest” choices for use as Christmas trees. However, because the branches of these small indoor conifers are not very rigid, only very light decorations should be hung from them. Also, you should be very careful to water them regularly and be sure not to expose them to too strong a source of heat.

Another interesting option is a recycled cardboard tree from Cascades Inc. These trees are available from the company’s website and carry the reputable FSC certification of responsible forest management. They are designed with 100% recycled fibre from the “urban forest” … also known as recycling bins.

Smart lighting ...
There’s nothing like a sparkling Christmas tree for creating ambience... but keep in mind that your tree consumes a lot of electricity. It’s worth remembering that LED lights, which have been on the market for a number of years, offer a pleasant alternative to traditional bulbs. Consuming up to 90% less energy and generating practically no heat, they give off a glow that’s every bit as charming.

For even more energy savings, try installing a timer (available in hardware stores for under $10). Not only do timers reduce the amount of time your tree lights are on, they also make your life easier. As for outdoor lights, you can now buy sets that use solar-powered LEDs. They’re practical and, since they don’t need to be plugged in, very safe—if still a little on the expensive side. 

... also means restraint
You’re under no obligation to be the first on the block to light up your house. Christmas decorations seem all the more magical on Christmas Day if you don’t get “burnt out” on them before December 25.

First of all, be sure to use only approved (CSA or ULC) bulbs. Whether inside or outside, use light sets specifically designed for that purpose. Next, keep in mind that each wall socket supplies a maximum of 15 amperes. Electricity consumption should be indicated on the packaging of your Christmas lights. If it’s expressed in watts, just divide the number by 120 (volts) to obtain the total number of amperes. Do the math! If the lights plugged into one socket add up to more than 15 amperes, then use additional sockets as needed.

The finishing touches
The sky’s the limit when it comes to decorating your tree—as well as your walls, windows, fireplace mantel or staircase. Don’t forget, though, that most commercially available Christmas decorations, while attractive and festive, are not recyclable and are generally environmentally unfriendly! Decorations to avoid or use in moderation include icicles, plastic wreaths, angel hair, and spray cans of artificial snow.

Presents: a must, whatever anyone says!
Of course, Christmas doesn’t have to translate into presents ... but can it really exist without them? The greenest presents are consumable items: theatre tickets, a massage, a spa treatment, and so on. For presents with more “presence,” use recycled wrapping paper or gift bags (fabric or paper) that can be reused again next year. When shopping for gifts, opt for useful, durable items rather than gadgets that just end up in the trash. And buy locally as much as possible!

And now, the pièce de resistance
Now it’s time to unveil the fruits of your labours to family and friends. You might well be tempted to save time and effort by using plastic foam plates and plastic cups. But resist, at all costs! Your guests will be happy to eat from “real” tableware and after the meal, nobody will mind if you ask them to pitch in on dishwashing detail!

Post-feast, put recyclables in the recycling bin and compost table scraps. Still have lots of untouched, fresh food? Why not wrap it up—in re-usable containers, of course—and pay a visit to your local food bank? Lastly, scan your local newspaper for Christmas tree pickup dates, when trucks make the rounds to collect trees for mulching.

So there you go: a host of small gestures that take no real effort, but whose cumulative effects make a big difference.

What are we all dreaming of this holiday season? A “green” Christmas! 

Need to know exactly what’s recyclable (and what isn’t) during the Holiday season? Recyc-Québec has a handy checklistPDF file on the subject (please note that it’s available in French only).