Fake or real: which Christmas tree is best for the environment?

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Fake or real: which Christmas tree is best for the environment?

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Working at Onesta got me thinking about the difference between a real Christmas tree and a fake plastic one. Which is the best option in terms of the environment? My preference has always been real. It wouldn’t be the same without my dad trying to fit the tree through the front door and that piney smell when I walk into the living room, even if the needles do get stuck in my feet. Panic! What if my beloved forest tree was actually adding to the destruction of the planet? 

So rather than pushing the thought aside and carrying on, I’ve done some research and I’m here again to share what I’ve found! It’s no surprise that most artificial trees are made in China and are made up of metal and plastic, usually something called PVC plastic. This type of plastic releases all sorts of toxic chemicals into our air, our water and eventually our food chain when its produced and thrown away. Without even touching on carbon footprint of shipping, fake trees are not recyclable so will just end up in landfill. All added together, it makes a carbon footprint of 40kg, not good! 

Of course, the positive about fake trees is that they can be boxed up into an attic and used year after year, but it would have to be used at least 10 times, before it evens out its own footprint. And in my research, I found that on average fake trees are only used four times before being replaced.  

As you probably guessed fake trees aren’t looking great, but are real ones any better? The usual Christmas tree takes from 10 – 12 years to grow to the ideal size of 6 feet tall. During this time, they do a lot of good for our environment and for us, they capture carbon and release oxygen and they provide a home for wildlife which is so important.  

How does the waste compare? Local councils often offer a tree collection service, you just need to be in when they collect or there’s a Recyclenow locator which shows the nearest recycling centre to you that accepts Christmas trees. Although I am no gardening expert, I have found that some other options for your tree are: 

  • Wood chips - these can be used for mulching, which is apparently really helpful for new plant beds, but they can also be used for making a really nice place for wildlife to come and live! 
  • Compost - an easier option is to just use your old tree for composting to help your soil.

At this point a weight lifted off my shoulders as it meant I could feel secure in my choice to go and purchase my real tree (whoop!). But wait, what can I do to ensure the tree we get this Christmas is the most environmentally friendly there is? Let the googling continue! First of all, there’s no need to worry about people tearing down forests across the world for your festive centrepiece, most Christmas trees are grown as their own plot so they are not taking from any other land. And although trees can’t be labelled as ‘organic’ as the certification doesn’t cover wood materials, (weird but there it is!) A lovely solution is this  this amazing search tool from Forestry England to help find sustainable Christmas trees closest to you. 

On the same wavelength, it’s obvious that buying more local is better for the reasons of reducing the miles you have to travel, it supports your local businesses and it adds more of a personal touch to your decorations! And even more dangerous, importing trees from abroad brings in a whole load of biosecurity risks; essentially a variety of pests and diseases that could travel with said trees and have a really bad impact on our own woodlands and farms. Luckily, another search tool exists by the amazing people at Grown in Britain to guarantee you are buying a tree that has in no way been imported.  

Now this is where it gets interesting… 

There is another option entirely, which I did not know was a thing before this research, rent a tree! Basically, you get all the nice benefits I just talked about of a real tree, but without worrying about what to do after you’ve finished with it. Between the festive periods, trees that are rented can be re-planted and cared for so they can be used again the next year, isn’t that brilliant? They may not be as common but I found a great blog which have some of the best places to rent a tree, and one of them might be close to you!

When all is said and done real trees are pretty great, but I know some families already have fake trees waiting to be used again. If one of these households is you, then the best advice is to keep on using it and make it last as long as you can. Simple steps such as making sure they are stored in a cool, dry place within a protective box or bag will help to keep an artificial tree in good condition for years to come, as well as making it easier to set up the next year! Once you need to replace it, then looking at these more environmentally friendly options that I’ve set out here is the next step. 

I hope this has helped some festive decisions this December, every little choice helps the environment, and it is more crucial than ever! 

Speak to you soon...