Every year, there’s a debate on whether to chop down a real, evergreen tree for Christmas festivities, or opt for an artificial tree made primarily from plastic in a factory. According to Greenpeace, you should keep an artificial Christmas tree in use for at least 8 years — but preferably 20 or more — to keep its lifetime emissions to a minimum.
Twenty years is a long time to keep an artificial tree. Each year in the U.S. alone, consumers purchase about 10 million of these fake Christmas trees, many of which are made from PVC and cannot be recycled. Luckily, they can be reused, and with proper storage and a little elbow grease each year, your family Christmas tree can become an heirloom to hold on to for decades.
Choosing a Christmas Tree
First thing’s first — if you don’t already own an artificial tree, you’ll need to buy one. The most eco-friendly option is to find a second-hand Christmas tree that you can give new life to. If you decide to purchase a new artificial tree, look for retailers that have made commitments to sustainability, perhaps through using renewable energy in their factories or partnering with sustainable organizations.
For the tree itself, consider height and width. You want something that is going to last many years, and that means it should be able to move through life with you. You may live in a loft apartment with tall ceilings now, but will your nine-foot-tall tree still work if you move to a place with low ceilings in a few years’ time?
Pre-lit trees are handy, because you don’t have to fuss with stringing lights around a big tree. But they are also one of the most common issues with artificial trees. Don’t drop that faulty tree off to the donation center just yet. If you want to make the most of an artificial tree, take the time to care for the broken lights.
You turn on the Christmas tree, only to find a huge middle section isn’t lighting up. This may mean that the fuse for one strand of lights is out. You can inspect and change fuses in the tree’s fuse box, which is usually found near the central structural support pole or by the primary power plug at the base of the tree. You can switch out the old fuse with an extra supplied with the tree, or find one online or at a local home improvement store.
Broken bulbs and damaged strands of lights can also cause a section of the tree to go dark. Replace broken bulbs as soon as you notice them, because they can put more strain on other bulbs and cause them to burn-out. If you notice an entire strand of lights is damaged, you may need to replace it. Talk to your local waste management company about options for safely disposing of the old strand of lights.
Filling in Gaps Between Branches
Christmas trees are often stored away in cramped spaces for 10 to 11 months of the year. As you store your artificial tree again year after year, the branches tend to compress, leaving large gaps in the tree.
The first step to making the tree look fuller is to fluff the branches. Start from the inner part of the tree at the bottom, gently tugging the branches outward and spreading them out from one another. Enlist the help of family members to make this task go by faster.
After fluffing out the branches, your tree may still look sparse, especially if you’ve had it for several years. Invest in lush garland, especially real or artificial evergreen options, to match the tree and make it seem fuller.
Go for a maximalist look with decorations. Trim the tree in wide ribbons and large ornaments to disguise the spaces between branches. Just be sure to avoid ornaments that are too heavy, which can pull down certain branches and make those gaps look even larger.
Cleaning Artificial Christmas Trees
Yes, you can and should be cleaning your fake Christmas tree each year. Before it’s time to display your tree for the year, make a plan to clean the tree of dust or debris that may be hiding in the branches after months in storage.
Remove lights and other electrical elements from the tree.Use a vacuum or microfiber cloth to dust the branches.For dirty trees, mix a couple tablespoons of dish soap into a bucket of warm water. Use a microfiber cloth dipped in the soap-and-water mixture to wipe down the branches, then set the sections of the tree on towels to dry before assembling and adding lights.
Storing Christmas Trees
Proper tree storage is crucial in ensuring your tree lasts as long as possible. After all, artificial trees spend most of their lives in storage. The first step here is to purchase a storage bag that is long and wide enough for your tree. Some options even stand upright or have wheels to move them around easily.
Next, consider where you’ll be storing the tree. You’re probably tempted to hide it away in the attic or garage, but keep in mind that major temperature and humidity changes throughout the year can lead to mold, mildew, or fading of the tree.
Before storing the tree, remove ornaments to prevent breakage. Remove garland, light strands (unless the tree is pre-lit), and other decorative items. Organize them to make decorating next year easier, and keep the most fragile items in labeled, hard storage bins to avoid damage.
When it’s time to put the tree in its bin or bag, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions for how to fold in the branches and take apart the tree. This will help keep that artificial tree in tip-top shape for years to come.
Based in Los Angeles, Paige is a writer who is passionate about sustainability. Aside from writing for EcoWatch, Paige also writes for Insider, HomeAdvisor, Thrillist, EuroCheapo, Eat This, Not That!, and more. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Ohio University and holds a certificate in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She also specialized in sustainable agriculture while pursuing her undergraduate degree. When she’s not writing, Paige enjoys decorating her apartment, enjoying a cup of coffee and experimenting in the kitchen (with local, seasonal ingredients, of course!).
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