Being a conscious steward of the planet for future generations doesn’t mean we have to forgo celebrating Christmas in Paris. It just means getting a bit more creative with eco-friendly adaptations of our favorite traditions such as the Christmas tree, or Sapin de Noël.
Table of contents
- Choosing Your Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree: Real or Artificial?
- Guidelines for a Real Christmas Tree
- Artificial Trees
- Alternative Zero-Waste Trees
Choosing Your Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree: Real or Artificial?
The debate has been going for decades about whether artificial trees are “better” than real trees. The question, of course, is which one is better for the planet. Real trees are a renewable resource that add oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, and renew the soil when composted afterwards. They’re also usually grown within the country and therefore contribute to the local economy and reduce the shipping footprint. But a good artificial tree can last for 20 years, making it a responsible choice for long-term use. Whichever you prefer, the most important thing is to choose wisely.
Guidelines for a Real Christmas Tree
1. Buy it Local
Approximately four million of the five million live trees sold each year in France are grown in the country, historically in the Morvan region, but also increasingly in Brittany. The remaining trees are usually imported from Denmark or Belgium (looking at you, Ikea). When shopping, look for the Label Rouge, which means the trees were grown in France and cut at the last moment so they’re still fresh at Christmas. If you don’t see a label on the tree itself, ask the florist or garden center where their trees are from.
2. Timing is Everything
Label Rouge trees aren’t usually found in garden shops before the second week of December because they’re cut at the last minute. This also removes the need for fixative sprays that are usually doused on trees sold in November to keep their needles longer. Note that in France cut trees are usually sold already stuck into a log “bûche” base or a wooden “x”. It’s quite rare to see the metal tree stands that can hold water (and therefore supposedly keep your tree alive a bit longer), but I’ve seen a few garden shops advertise them. If you’re determined to get a tree up as early as possible, you may want to consider a potted tree (if not an artificial tree).
3. Buy it Clean
Look for a tree grown without pesticides and herbicides. The Plante Bleue label designates French trees grown with respect for the environment, but you can also just look for organic (or, bio) trees. As mentioned above, the cut ones will only be on the market after the first weekend of December to avoid the extra preservative spraying.
Cut Organic Trees
In Paris there are a few garden shops and other stores selling organic Christmas trees, but if there isn’t one near you the other option is delivery direct to your home. France Sapin Bio will deliver trees grown in the Pyrenees to anywhere in France, but they also sell their trees at several locations in Paris (scroll down to the map). Sapins Noël is another online site for organic Christmas trees, wreaths, cut branches, holly, stands, and also potted trees all grown in France and delivered throughout the country. Mon Petit Coin Vert sells 125cm organic cut trees from France for €50, and also make artisan pine needle vinegar and syrup (yep, it’s edible!) The “eco-responsible” florist Eucalyptus (in the 16th) sells cut trees sourced in France from €35 (the larger trees can be delivered), and Du Pain & des Roses sells organic cut trees that can either be delivered (only a few available dates) or picked up in person at their “kiosque” in the 9th arrondissement. Although they don’t sell trees, another staunchly “Grown in France” florist Fleurs d’Ici sells gorgeous pine wreaths with locally-grown floral decorations from €56.
Potted Organic Trees
For potted trees, you can try My Little Sapin, which will deliver cute – if pricey – little decorated trees that are perfect for small Parisian apartments or offices. Just choose one of the decorative options on their site (the “Bobo” tree with its burlap sack is adorably trendy), decide if you want lights or not, and for an extra €11 they will even take them back if you’d like it to be replanted for next year. Treezmas is another company offering potted Christmas tree “adoptions”, where they deliver your tree at a chosen time, and then pick it up after the holidays to return to the tree farm. Again, not the cheapest option: the smallest trees (60-80cm) are €60; the largest (1.5-1.75m) are €115. But they’re excellent eco-friendly options for those who don’t want to have to leave their home (not a bad idea during a pandemic).
4. Flock Off! Fake Snow and Tinsel
Trees with flocking (fake spray-on snow) and tacky 1970s tinsel (the stuff that’s impossible to remove) CANNOT be composted. Not only does flocking doom your Christmas tree to the local landfill come January, it also produces lots of empty fake snow aerosol spray cans, and flocked trees have a higher danger of catching fire than natural trees! If you like the ay a flocked tree looks, then just get an artificial tree that you can reuse year after year.
5. Composting Your Tree
The best way to ensure your cut tree fulfills its carbon circle of life, you’ll want to make sure to compost it once the holidays are over. As mentioned above, the tree has to be completely stripped of all decorations and can’t have any fake snow flocking on it. Then just drop it off at the closest composting point in Paris; over 100 collection points are open from December 26th through January 20th, 2021. Be sure to remove it from the bag you used to carry it there before adding it to the collection pile, EVEN IF IT’S A BIO-DEGRADABLE BAG (like these from the charity Handicap International). Those are fine for the landfill, but not the compost. A few garden centers and florists will even let clients return the tree for composting – some even offer a €10 bon d’achat in return – be sure to ask when purchasing your tree (you may need to keep your receipt).
If you can’t compost the tree, you’ll need to take it to the nearest déchèterie (municipal waste station) or take it out to the sidewalk on the same day your building’s green trash cans are collected (just place the tree next to the trash bins). Don’t just dump the tree on the sidewalk any old time, or you can get fined €150.
Safety Note: Even if you have a living tree, be careful of fire! Don’t place your tree near candles, a fireplace, or a heater, and never leave the lights turned on for more than a few hours (and then only when you’re home).
1. Buy Quality
We don’t want to encourage the production of more plastics (artificial trees are usually imported), but if you already have an artificial tree be sure to take good care of it so you don’t have to replace it with a new one for at least 20 years. Avoid ones made from PVC, the most toxic (and unfortunately, the most common) on the market.
2. Buy Pre-Owned
You can save money – and the environment – by purchasing a used tree from your neighbors (or beyond). The popular French site Le Bon Coin has a bit of everything, from scraggly Ikea trees for €5 to fancy Londres Speed trees for €100, and you can search by location to see what’s for sale within walking distance if you don’t want to pay for delivery. This is also a great site for all kinds of Christmas decorations, strings of lights, boxes of ornaments, and even bags of pinecones (I scored a dozen for €3 from someone living a block from me). The French charity store Emmaüs also has a website selling a few used trees and upcycled decorative trees made by their staff (delivery possible throughout France). If you have time to explore, you may be able to find a nice artificial tree at the Paris flea markets or at neighborhood holiday brocantes (although most of these have been canceled for 2020).
3. Give it New Life
When you no longer need your artificial tree or are ready for an upgrade, consider reselling it on Le Bon Coin, donating it to a local organization or nursing home, or giving it away to friends. A lot of Secrets of Paris readers are expats or otherwise temporary residents of the city, so ask around your network to see who might enjoy a free tree. It cuts down on the demand for new trees in the stores and keeps one more tree out of the dump!
Alternative Zero-Waste Trees
If you’re the creative type, there are countless Pinterest boards, Instagram photos and YouTube tutorials for creating Christmas trees from all sorts of recuperated materials, including driftwood, old books, wooden pallets. Flea market finds such as this vintage ladder can also do the trick with a few ornaments or a string of lights!
For some green DIY inspiration à la française, check out Nina Chardin’s adorable selection of alternative Christmas trees (as well as French artisan items) on her bilingual website, My Green Cocoon.
If you’re looking to get some authentic Parisian style in your holiday decorations this year and don’t want to resort to Eiffel Tower statues or ornaments made in China, why not use all of those wine corks you’ve been collecting to make a wreath or garland? If you want to still be able to read the cork (for example, if it’s from a special bottle or event), this Christmas wine cork garland by Jazzmine at Dash of Jazz is really easy to make and allows you to show off your collection.