Are Real or Artificial Christmas Trees More Sustainable?

Real or artificial Christmas trees  

As I write this, I’m starting to get ready for the festive season. With it being 2020 it’s going to look a bit different to previous years, but I’m determined to make it fun regardless. You might be thinking of doing the same. Along with all of our other traditions like fairy lights and festive music, one of the main traditions is the Christmas tree. We’re ready for a new Christmas tree which got me thinking: which are more sustainable, real or artificial Christmas trees? I’ve been doing some research, so read onwards if you’d like to know more.

Environmental cost of real Christmas trees

There is one main thing that you need to know when considering a real tree. The environmental cost is strongly linked to how you dispose of it after it has been used. The tree will take in carbon dioxide whilst it is being grown which is good for the environment. Despite this, they still have a carbon footprint. There are emissions associated with transporting the tree directly to your house (as well as some potential concerns about pesticide use). This is where the big factor comes in: if the tree is recycled afterwards, the total carbon footprint is only around 3.5kg. If it goes to landfill, it will release methane as it decays which will give it a carbon footprint of up to 16kg! Definitely make sure it doesn’t go to landfill if you buy a real tree 🙂

Environmental cost of artificial Christmas trees

Since I just told you that a real tree which is recycled afterwards has a small footprint, you might think that the story is over and that there’s no need to consider an artificial tree. There’s actually a twist to consider 🙂 I can’t deny that a tree made of PVC plastic which is normally shipped from very far away does have a much higher carbon footprint (around 40kg in fact). This is around 12x as much as a real one! The catch is that you can reuse an artificial tree. If you were to buy one made of plastic and then reused it for over 12 years, the carbon footprint would actually be lower than buying a real one each year. It might be more convenient to do this too.

Which should I buy?

If you search online you’ll probably find a mix of opinions which tend to lean towards buying a real tree. I’m going to take a slightly different approach: it’s up to you. Both of these options come with their own benefits and drawbacks as well as an environmental cost that you can reduce. Real ones give a fantastic Christmas tree smell that brings back nostalgia but can drop its needles and includes more maintenance. Artificial ones are convenient and can be reused for a familiar Christmas every year but some say it doesn’t give the same experience.

When you’ve made your choice based on personal preference, you can follow the tips below to reduce your environmental cost:

Real tree sustainability tips
  • Buy local – since a lot of the emissions come from the transport, you can reduce your impact by buying from somewhere nearby. It’s great to support the locals too!
  • Make sure it is recycled. I said it above but you definitely don’t want them going to landfill. If this is inevitable in your case, that is the only situation where I would actively recommend getting an artificial one that you can reuse.
  • You can maximize the environmental cost by buying a potted tree which can be replanted after the festive season, allowing you to use it year after year.
Artificial tree sustainability tips
  • Choose a quality one – It might be tempting to try to save money by buying a cheap one, but these may not last as long. In order for these to be sustainable they need to be reused for decades, so it’s important that the tree can last that long.
  • Buying second hand would be great to reduce the overall environmental cost of artificial trees.

I hope you have a great festive season! If you have any thoughts on which Christmas tree you should buy, feel free to post a comment below 🙂

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