As December is creeping nearer it’s time for the real vs fake Christmas tree debate. Christmas for me means a real tree and the pine scent which instantly makes me feel Christmassy. But personal preferences aside, which one is more sustainable? Read my quick guide to find out more.
If you do have an artificial tree already in your loft, climbing up the ladder, dusting the box off and setting it up may be the start of your Christmas. And reusing it year after year is definitely the best thing to do.
The key problem with artificial trees is that they are made from plastic. This means each artificial tree has its own carbon footprint. Then they are often shipped long distances before arriving at the shop and then your home. Offsetting a fake tree’s carbon footprint will take time. You would need to use your tree for between 10-20 years, which is a long time when you consider most people plan to dump theirs after one year.
Artificial Christmas trees are also non-recyclable. It will end up in landfill even if you have used it for ten years. If you have an artificial Christmas tree the best thing to do is to donate it rather than send it to landfill.
If you do need to buy an artificial Christmas tree don’t despair. You can always try and buy a pre-loved one.
Real Christmas trees are a sustainable option with a much smaller carbon footprint than artificial ones. Especially when you choose a locally grown one, making it an ethical choice as you will be supporting local businesses. There is also the benefit of being able to have a Christmassy outing, weaving your way through a maze of trees as you choose your own tree to take home.
I get asked a lot about the fact that you are cutting down a tree, but you don’t need to worry about deforestation because the majority are specifically grown, often on land that wouldn’t be good enough for other crops and aren’t felled from pre-existing forests. Real trees are a renewable resource as at least one new tree is planted when one is harvested with some places planting two or more for each harvested tree.
There are millions of Christmas trees growing in the UK at any one time. Not only are they removing carbon from the atmosphere whilst they are growing, but they provide homes for local wildlife too. These trees would not be growing if it weren’t for the Christmas tree market.
If you want to be sure that your real tree has been grown sustainably, not in a way that’s environmentally damaging, look for the FSC-certification logo. Or the British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA) which has strict growing practices for it’s members.
If you want a tree that’s certified as organic and pesticide-free, get one that’s approved by the soil association. Your local Christmas tree farm will be happy to tell you more about their trees and growing process.
The British Christmas Tree Growers Association website will show you where you can buy locally.
Despite being a tree they still need to be recycled properly. A natural Christmas tree left to decompose in landfill releases CO2 and produces methane. Luckily there are plenty of ways your Christmas tree can be put to good use after the festive season. They never have to end up in a landfill.
If you are green-fingered you could consider getting a potted Christmas tree with roots. With this option, you get to keep your tree and reuse it year after year. It can even grow with your children! They can cost more to begin with but will end up saving you in the long run. However it will need some nurturing and of course, you will need a big enough garden.
Renting a living Christmas tree is becoming more popular and so more easy to do. It may give you the best of both worlds, all the festive joy you want whilst being sustainable. They are planted back in the ground in between festivities so provide benefits to the environment and local wildlife again.
Places even offer a door to door pick up and drop off so it’s nice and easy. And some like Rental Claus’ scheme at Cotswold Fir allow you to take the same one home every year, you can even name them. They shoot up at about a foot a year, meaning you can pick one to literally grow with your children. A tree for life!
If you are looking into renting a tree, make sure you apply the same discretion you would in buying a real cut tree. Check those logos.
If you already have a large indoor plant, just decorate it at Christmas time!
Book lovers can create a book tree. Once your books are piled high in the shape of a Christmas tree, just hang some foraged garlands, a few twinkly lights and voila!
Make a rustic birch branch Christmas tree. You may need some forward planning with this one as the best time to prune a birch tree is early Autumn. But whether you have one in your garden or a friend does you can simply place your branches in a pot, hang any ornaments you already have and job done. Or create a hanging tree like the one pictured below.
For more tips on making your Christmas eco-friendly, check out my book Green Christmas.