Slow living: a quick note on Christmas trees

We’re buying a new Christmas tree this year. We limped our artificial one through last Christmas but it really has had it. I’ve always had an artificial tree and thought it was better for the environment than cutting down a real one every year. If you’re going to buy a good artificial one though then you need to invest a fair bit of money so it seemed like the perfect time to do some research and check out the eco credentials of all our options. 

Artificial trees

Artificial trees are usually made of plastic and plastic is made from oil, a non-renewable resource. The Carbon Trust estimates that a 2 metre artificial tree has a carbon footprint around 40kg CO2e. Around two thirds of its footprint is from the plastic and a quarter of its footprint is from the emissions produced when it is made. It’s more than twice that of a real tree that ends its life in landfill and more than ten times that of a real tree that is burnt. So, an artificial tree would need to be re-used for at least 10 Christmases to keep its carbon footprint impact on the environment lower than that of a real tree.

As an artificial tree is usually made from non-recyclable materials, even if you use it year after year, at some point it’s going to end up in landfill where it’s going to sit for centuries.

Real trees

A real tree can be a more eco-friendly alternative but you still need to be aware of a few things.

Buy local and from a quality grower: you don’t want to buy a real one that’s clocked up a lot of airmiles from being imported or one that’s been grown in an unsustainable way. The British Christmas Tree Growers Association has a list of Christmas Tree growers in Britain so you can find one near you. They also have a Code of Practice that promotes trees grown in an environmental and sustainable manner.

A real tree has a much lower carbon footprint than an artificial Christmas tree. You do still need to think about how you’re going to dispose of it after the festive period though. The Carbon Trust estimates that for a 2 metre tall real Christmas tree with no roots, the carbon footprint is 16kg CO2e if it ends up in landfill (the tree decomposes and produces methane gas which is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide). Burning the tree, planting it or having it chipped and then spreading it on the ground reduces the carbon footprint by up to 80% to around 3.5kg CO2e. Check what services your local Council provide for recycling real Christmas trees.

The result

I can’t stand the idea of filling up landfill with Christmas trees so this year we’re going to buy a real one. I’ve found a local farm that is listed on the Christmas Tree Growers Association website and if possible I’ll get one with a root ball and do my very best to keep it alive in the garden after Christmas so that we can use it again next year. If not, I’ll make sure it’s recycled after the Christmas period. We’re going to have a family trip out to buy it and I’m getting really excited!

What about you - do you have an artificial one or do you prefer the real thing?