Real vs fake—which Christmas tree is better for the environment
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Real vs fake—which Christmas tree is better for the environment?

Do you prefer an artificial Christmas tree, which you can easily store away after use and keep for many years? There’s less mess, you’ll probably save money, and some even come with built-in fairy lights. 

Or perhaps you prefer a real tree, with that unbeatable Christmassy smell and sense of authenticity. There’s something special about going to pick up your tree each year too.

But when choosing between a real and fake tree, you may also want to consider another factor: the impact on the environment. 

How sustainable are artificial Christmas trees?

You might think that re-using an artificial tree is a fairly sustainable way to go. 

But, unfortunately, that’s not the case.

The Carbon Trust says that around two thirds of an average artificial tree's carbon footprint is from the plastic it is made from, which is produced from carbon intensive oil[1].

Also, given that most are made in factories in Asia, they have to be transported thousands of miles to reach your front room[2]

If you have an artificial tree, even if it lasts years or decades, one day it will end up in a landfill.

Of course, the longer you keep and use your artificial tree for, the better. And if you’ve already got one, continue enjoying it for as long as it will last. 

If you really do prefer artificial, next time the next time you need one, perhaps you could buy a second-hand fake tree. You’ll save a few pounds as well as reducing your impact on the environment.

How sustainable are real Christmas trees?

A real Christmas tree has a “much lower” carbon footprint than an artificial tree, particularly if it is disposed of thoughtfully, according to the Carbon Trust[3]

Why? Well real trees don’t require the intensive carbon emissions that it takes to produce and ship artificial trees.

Also, unlike artificial trees, a real Christmas tree naturally absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen during the 10-12 years it takes to grow. It also provides a habitat for wildlife during that time.

You might think that cutting down a tree for use at home is in itself an environmental crime. But according to the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, when a Christmas tree is cut down, it is replaced by another seedling, with up to 10 trees being planted for every average size tree that is grown[4]. The Royal Horticultural Society encourages buyers to ask their supplier where the trees come from and to choose a locally sourced and grown tree, or one that has at least been grown in the UK rather than abroad.

The vital key is what you do with your real tree after the Christmas festivities. Green options available to you include[5]

  1. If you have a tree with its roots still attached, then replanting it is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. It also means you can enjoy your tree for years to come. 
  2. Drop your tree off at a recycling centre where it can be turned into chippings for paths or turned into soil.
  3. Local authorities often arrange drop-off points or special collections of trees in early January - check with your local council to see what arrangements they’re making.
  4. Some organisations and charities offer ‘treecyling’ services – your old tree could even be used to build flood barriers.

The verdict

If you buy a real tree, that was grown locally and by responsible growers who plant more trees, and which you dispose of responsibly, then you’ll be choosing the most environmentally-friendly option.