Christmas Trees –Real or Artificial? Which is Better for the Environment?

christmas tree with a green wall and a wreath on a door

If you’re looking to have a greener Christmas in the office or at home this year, start with the greenery!

Some of us shy away from buying a real tree at Christmas, and it can feel as though an artificial tree is a better option for the environment. However, there are some surprising statistics around that might have you change your mind.

According to The Carbon Trust, when you factor in the environmental cost of manufacture and transportation, an average artificial tree has a carbon footprint of 40kg of CO2. Plus most artificial trees can’t be recycled at the end of their lives.

By comparison, a real Christmas tree, taken to landfill after use has a 16kg CO2 footprint. Not great, but you can reduce this significantly if you dispose of it properly.

If your tree has roots, plant it in your office grounds or garden where possible. But if it has to go, get it chipped to produce mulch or soil improver. Evergreen trees in landfill emit additional methane as they decompose, so composting them isn’t a great option. Trees that are burned do release carbon – but only as much as they had absorbed during their life, so there is no net increase.

By disposing of your tree in the best way, you take its carbon footprint down as far as 3.5kg CO2 – a huge reduction in impact. As the Trust points out, you’ll need more than 10 years of use out of your artificial tree to match that – by which time it might be looking a little the worse for wear.

healthy green trees in a forest of old spruce fir and pine

But let’s start at the beginning – buying your tree

When you buy a real Christmas tree, ensure it has the FSC certification logo on it. That’s your reassurance that it has been sustainably grown. Make sure it’s as local as you can get too.

One with roots will stay alive for longer and may even be reusable in future years offsetting its carbon footprint.

Deck the Halls

Many people and businesses have treasured Christmas decorations that they use year after year. Some prefer to use natural decorations, like fir cones, holly and mistletoe. These great seasonal ornaments can look wonderful, and are easily composted. But make sure they don’t get covered in glitter, as that very much isn’t recyclable, compostable or in any way environmentally friendly!

We’re all for reuse and recycling of trees, decorations, wrappings and cards. But one item of décor you might want to think about replacing is your old, incandescent tree lights. Switching them for modern LED lights would be a great choice as they use in the region of 90 times LESS power.  That’s a significant saving in electricity over the holiday season.

christmas gift with zero waste eco friendly handmade box in kraft paper on a wooden table

Your Sustainable Christmas

When you look at the origins of Christmas, whatever your thoughts or beliefs, it started so simply. Now it seems a little crazy that it might have become a festival that treads heavily on the earth, leading to massive waste and squandering of reserves.

Christmas means a great many different things to many people. But its true spirit is maybe best served by considering carefully how we make use of resources during this time, and wishing well all those future generations who have many Christmases to come.

The information in this article was sourced from The Carbon Trust website.

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