Eco Christmas Trees: Real or Fake?

Every year around the end of November many people’s minds tend to turn to Christmas trees, as they start to think about decorating for the festive season. However, that then begs the question; which type of tree is more environmentally friendly?

Image credit: Photo by Andre Gorham II

Let’s start with artificial trees; the main downside of these is they are made from plastic and usually imported from places such as China, adding to their carbon footprint. They are also non-biodegradable, and when they are no longer needed they are incinerated or sent to landfill where they will remain for years. Artificial trees also have a carbon footprint that is equivalent to around 40kg of greenhouse gas emissions which means that you would have to reuse your artificial tree for 12 years to make it greener than a real tree that was burned.

Artificial trees do have their benefits, though. If you invest in a good quality tree, they can be used over and over again for years, potentially even a lifetime, which in the long term saves money and natural resources. If a tree is looked after well and still in good condition, it can be handed down through generations and even donated when no longer needed, reducing their carbon footprint. 

Image credit: Photo by Aurelio Arantes

Real trees, on the other hand, can be purchased locally and replanted or recycled. This means they will have a lower carbon footprint as they also absorb CO2 whilst they are growing. Many Christmas tree farms grow trees specifically for the purpose of them being cut down in November/December so they are not felled from pre-existing forests. The process of growing Christmas trees to reach their optimum height takes around eight to ten years.

However, when looking at real Christmas trees it is important to look at where the tree is grown. Insecticides are sprayed on most trees to protect them from leaf-damaging insects, so they are still able to be sold. These insecticides can then pollute the soil or even get into waterways which contaminate waters causing harm to other living organisms.

If you are buying a real Christmas tree it is important to consider where you are getting the tree from – Friends of the Earth recommend that you to look for a tree that is locally produced or grown in the UK with an FSC certification, which means that the forests where the trees are grown meet the highest environmental and social standards.

Image credit: Photo by m h

So, which type of tree should you buy? There is an environmental impact of both real and fake trees. However, there is also an ethical and social argument to consider. It is important for the world to constantly be moving towards a greener economy, but it is also important to support indigenous industries. If everyone buys a plastic Christmas tree from the other side of the world, that will use an extreme amount of fossil fuel electricity. The trees then have to be shipped across the world to big retailers such as John Lewis, which does not lend to a sustainable future. If we buy a Christmas tree that’s grown locally, supports local jobs and is FSC certified, it will be much better for the planet in the long term.

About the author: Isabelle Eaton has just finished her undergraduate degree and is about to start her Masters studying Sustainable Development at UWE. She has her own blog and is passionate about all things nature. She is also the Wildlife and Environment Editor here at Wild Magazine and is working towards a career in conservation so she can make a positive impact on the world.

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