Christmas Fir: An Upcycling Story

For most people the holidays are over by January, but at Juniper Ridge it still smells like Christmas. Once a year, when farms and vendors cast off their unsold trees, we take those discarded Christmas trees and create our sustainably harvested Christmas Fir fragrance. What began as a scent inspired by the fir trees of the High Sierras has now become one of our own favorite post-holiday traditions. 

The Christmas tree is a time-honored tradition of celebrating the holidays that dates back hundreds of years. Long before people started observing the Christmas holiday as we know it today, many cultures celebrated the winter months with trees, boughs and wreaths from evergreens that grow all year round. And, then as now, is there anything better than the scent of fresh conifer trees to remind you of the best parts of December–the cozy, fireside, flannel pajama part of the holidays? The sharp sticky needles and dense woody aromas draw upon our favorite winter memories, but those of us concerned with waste might find ourselves wondering: what happens to all those trees once the season is over?

In the United States alone an estimated 30 million trees are cut down and sold as Christmas trees each year. And throughout the year on 15,000 farms close to 350 million Christmas trees grow. The Christmas tree industry is a huge and profitable one, and though there are alternatives like artificial trees, those are often made of plastic abroad under unfair conditions and present many of their own sustainability challenges. 

The truth is real trees are often the greener option. There are many ways Christmas trees get a second life. The most typical is  adding them to compost piles to make mulch, but there are initiatives that use the trees to help prevent coastal erosion, and even programs that sink trees to the bottom of lakes in order to create habitats where fish can spawn. However, if the trees are not properly recycled they can end up in landfills or incinerators, both of which create harmful greenhouse gasses. And waste isn’t the only issue, dry trees can be fire hazards, especially here on the west coast. 

We at Juniper Ridge see tree industry waste as an opportunity. What could be thrown out into the garbage can instead be salvaged and put to use. Since we launched the scent in 2007, we’ve been working with a family-owned natural grower based in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, who supplies trees to vendors around the Bay Area and beyond. Beginning December 26th, we go out and collect whatever trees are unsold at the end of the season to form the basis of our Christmas Fir line. 

After they are collected, we combine the grand, noble and white fir trees and upcycle them. We steam distill the thousands of leftover Christmas trees, feeding over twelve hundred a day into our chippers on site at our West Oakland workshop for about six weeks. And from these trees we create our special line of fragrance products available exclusively around the holidays. For the 2019 season we crafted our Christmas Fir essential oil, body wash, and incense, as well as some limited release Field Lab items,  to help conjure the holiday spirit from 2018’s Christmas tree waste. And now we are doing it all over again. We are beginning our new year making sure the trees used to celebrate 2019 will have another life in 2020, distilling them down to their essences for next year’s Christmas Fir fragrance line, which will be available in the fall. 

Along with our holiday efforts, we work with arborists and the forest service all year long to make sure trees removed for forest management and fire mitigation have a second life, bringing the aromas of the wilderness into your home.  We are proud of our efforts to reuse what other industries see as waste to create our fragrance products, and feel especially attached to our own winter ritual creating the Christmas Fir—creating a way to channel the holiday spirit no matter what holiday you celebrate, and no matter what time of year you use your fragrance product.