Are real or fake Christmas trees better for the planet? It is something that I have been wondering about for years, and maybe you have too, because we all want to try and be more sustainable don’t we? So let’s find out the answer once and for all shall we?
On the surface one might say that cutting down trees is bad, and plastic is the enemy. But if you cut down a tree and it avoids bringing another plastic tree into the world, then surely that’s good right? But then again it might be better to have one more tree in the world non?
The plastic tree’s credentials come mainly from the fact that you, in theory, can buy one tree per family and reuse it every year for the rest of time, never having to cut down any innocent evergreens.
The real trouble from plastic trees comes from their manufacture using oil which, coupled with the fact that they are normally manufactured in China and then transported makes for a pretty big-ass carbon footprint.
A fake 6.5ft tree is said to have a carbon footprint equivalent to about 40kg of greenhouse gas emissions – more than double that of a natural tree that goes straight to landfill, and more than 10 times that of a real tree which is burnt on a bonfire or recycled into wood chippings. This essentially means that you would have to use your fake tree for at least 10 years for it to equal one real, responsibly-disposed of tree in terms of environmental impact.
To add insult to injury, plastic trees are not recyclable. This is because most of them are made from PVC, a plastic which is a bloody pain in the arse and damn near impossible to recycle.
If you are a fan of artificial trees and already have one then keep using it for as long as you can. But if you are thinking of replacing it then buy second-hand to try and keep an element of sustainability and reuse.
There is nothing quite like the smell and feel of a real Christmas tree, but (I’m gonna say it) it is definitely more effort than an artificial tree.
If a real tree goes to landfill it decomposes and releases methane gas, which is 25 times more potent than CO2. So you should not dump your tree after, that’s naughty. But even if you send your tree to landfill (and Santa will know if you do – just sayin’) it will release about 16kg of CO2, although this is still less that the CO2 released in making a fake tree.
The greenest way to dispose of your tree is by recycling it, as they can be made into wood chippings for use in gardens and parks.
Most local councils now offer a Christmas tree recycling service. You can look up your local Christmas tree recycling centre on this website. If your local council does not offer Christmas tree recycling, then go to Just Helping and see if they collect trees in your area.
Otherwise, check out this blog which shows you eight alternative ways to dispose of your tree in an environmentally-friendly way.
Buying a real Christmas tree
If you are getting a real tree then make sure it is from a local dealer and from a sustainable source. The British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA) has over 400 members across the UK who grow their trees under a code of practice, which means they have been grown in an environmentally-friendly and sustainable way. You can search for your postcode, meaning you can reduce the pollution created by your car when you go and pick it up from somewhere local. Also, make sure that your tree has an FSC label.
So, are real or fake Christmas trees better for the planet? If plastic trees were kiddies then they would only get coal for Christmas. They can jog on. Real Christmas trees are better for the environment no matter if you are naughty or nice in the way you dispose of them.
The key thing is that you if you are going to buy a real tree then you buy a BCTGA-registered and FSC-certified tree one from a local seller, and then you recycle it with your local council. And if fake is more your thing, then make sure you buy a good quality one that will become part of the family.