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."

Tree rental from the company, which started in 2009, isn't always the cheapest alternative. A 7-foot Nordmann fir costs $175 from Rent a Living Tree, where the smallest trees start at $35 plus delivery.

At Oregon's The Original Potted Christmas Tree Company, which operates in the Portland and Eugene area, trees are $95. They are picked up after the first of the year and planted in a watershed. The company points out that there are many advantages to the potted trees. 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. Each year the Adopt a Stream Foundation in Everett, Washington, sells small potted trees. After the season is over, the trees can be returned to 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?

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was published in December 2012.

What about renting a Christmas tree this year?
Rather than cutting down a live tree, many companies will rent you one that will keep growing and be used several years in a row.