Every year, around eight million Christmas trees are sold in the UK. But what’s the best option for the climate – real or artificial?
Both create emissions through transportation, but artificial plastic trees have a higher environmental impact. If you buy a new artificial one, you’ll need to re-use it for at least a decade to keep its environmental impact lower than a real tree. Rehousing a pre-loved one lowers the impact, but because most artificial trees are made from PVC plastic, they are very difficult to recycle at the end of their life. And if they end up in landfill, they produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
A 6 foot tall real Christmas tree takes approximately 5-10 years to reach maturity. As they grow, the trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, helping to offset climate change, which means they have a smaller impact on the environment than artificial ones.
Real trees without roots are the least sustainable option after artificial plastic because they are shredded for mulch or compost, which produces CO2 and methane. Cut trees that still include some roots and soil might survive replanting, but your best bet is a potted tree. After Christmas, plant it out in the garden, then dig it up and repot it next year. This could result in negative emissions because the tree captures carbon when it’s planted out. Don’t have room in the garden? Find a local plant nursery that rents out potted trees.
A quick search on Instagram reveals alternative trees made from cardboard, pallets, copper pipe and wire. Senior consultant Sarah Hargreaves at Resource Futures in Bristol invested in an Infinitree – a wooden tree made by a local craftsperson that can be endlessly reused. I sometimes use pruned offcuts from trees in the garden. Liberally sprinkled with decorations and fairy lights, they create a magical Christmas wonderland. Chopped up and left it in the garden after Christmas create a habitat for bugs and insects.
So, whatever your preference this December, there are plenty of options for a more sustainable choice of Christmas tree.