Would you rent a live Christmas tree instead of buying one that had already been chopped down?

Cut trees are currently the most popular Christmas choice in the country. At least 33 million Christmas trees are grown, cut down and sold every year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Even though these trees are used for only one season, they are a much more environmentally friendly choice than artificial trees, many of which are made from non-recyclable materials and are usually imported from China, according to Earth 911.

But a rented tree could be an even greener alternative. How does it work? Local companies grow their trees in nurseries. The live trees are then placed in pots and delivered to customers, sometimes complete with decorations, for the holiday season. Customers care for the trees while they're at home, making sure the trees are watered and healthy. At the end of the season, the trees are returned and continue to grow for another year. After about seven years, when the trees are too large for rental, they are planted in the ground.

Under the rental scenario, trees need to be transported back and forth from their nurseries, so all of the companies currently offering tree rentals have fairly small service areas. California-based Rent a Living Christmas Tree deals with customers in the San Francisco South Bay, Santa Cruz, Monterey Peninsula and Salinas areas. One of the company's customers, Susan Draper of Carmel, recently praised the idea: "It's good for nature," she told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. "You don't cut down a tree that will die."

Officials from the rent a tree company, which started in 2009, told the Sentinel that they expect to break even for the first time this year. The company has 2,000 trees available and the owners estimate they will rent about half of them.

Tree rental is not always the cheapest alternative. A 7-foot Norway spruce costs $89.99 from Rent a Living Tree, where the smallest trees start at $54.99 plus delivery. But they also come with several built-in advantages, according to Oregon's The Original Living Christmas Tree Company, which operates in the Portland area. For one thing, potted trees are harder for pets to knock over. Live trees are also less of a fire hazard than cut trees, which can dry out quickly. They also clean the air and emit oxygen while they're in your home.

If you're still balking at the cost, some nonprofits are getting into the tree-rental act. This year the Adopt a Stream Foundation in Everett, Wash., is renting more than 200 small trees this year for $35 each. After the season is over, the trees will all be planted along a local salmon stream to provide shade and prevent erosion.

Tree rental isn't available everywhere, but who knows what the future holds?

A new holiday trend: Renting Christmas trees
Save a Christmas tree, rent one! Rather than cutting down a live tree, many companies will now rent one that will keep growing and be used several years in a ro