Eco-Friendly Christmas Trees – Real vs. Fake?
What is the best approach when looking to buy a sustainable Christmas Tree?
The ‘real vs fake’ Christmas tree debate hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, with different groups coming out in favour of one side or the other.
The British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA) estimates around seven million trees are bought each year in the UK, with the vast majority of real ones - around 80% - being the Nordmann Fir.
Most trees are UK-grown, with only around £3 million worth of Christmas trees imported into the UK in 2017, according to government figures. However, recent statistics suggest that almost half of all trees sold are fake.
But what's the environmental impact of a real or fake tree? Which is the most eco-friendly option?
Kevin Jones, our Head of Forestry, offers his insight on why he thinks a real Christmas tree is the best way to go:
What are the differences between real and fake Christmas trees?
Most artificial trees are made in China, with the dual climate impact of being made from plastic, PVC and metal, and then shipped overseas.
It isn’t just the manufacturing that racks up their carbon footprint, however. Artificial Christmas trees aren’t recyclable, so when they’re inevitably thrown away, they end up in landfill, going nowhere fast.
According to the Carbon Trust, a two-metre artificial tree has a carbon footprint of around 40kg, more than ten times that of a real tree that’s burned after Christmas.
In other words, you’d need to re-use an artificial tree 10 times to negate its carbon footprint, yet it’s estimated that fake trees are used only four times, regardless of improving quality.
A two metre artificial tree has a carbon footprint of around 40kg, more than ten times that of a real tree that’s burned after Christmas.
Compare this with a real, locally sourced tree and the difference is stark.
Christmas trees take around 10-12 years to grow to the most popular size of 6 feet. During that time, they provide a habitat for wildlife and capture carbon from the atmosphere.
Of course, if this year’s tree ends up on the rubbish heap, it will have a greater impact (through decomposing and releasing methane) than one that is used for wood chip or burned.
Local authorities often offer a collection and chipping services, with chips used for mulching, or trees can be composted and used as a soil improver. Burning is a particularly effective way to dispose of a used Christmas tree and reduces potential emissions by 80% over those that are thrown out. You can even extend the Christmas joy by re-using your tree as a home for bugs and birds in your garden.
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What should you look for in a real and sustainable tree?
So, if you are looking for a real and sustainable tree, where should you start? Firstly, you don’t need to worry about deforestation when purchasing a real tree: most Christmas trees are grown as a horticultural crop and aren’t felled from pre-existing forests.
As a crop, there are things you can look out for:
- Source an FSC Certified tree
- Source it organically
- Source it locally
Christmas trees suffer from similar pest problems as many crops, so pesticide use is often high. However, trees can't technically be certified as 'organic,' as organic standards do not cover wood. However, it’s worth looking for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®) Certified trees, as they’re grown in a responsibly managed way and often minimise pesticide use.
If possible, source from an organic independent retailer or farm shop, as these providers are more likely to opt for total avoidance of pesticides.
It goes without saying, the more locally the tree is sourced the better, as it reduces the miles travelled, supports the local economy (a lot of work over many years goes into growing Christmas trees) as well as – hopefully – adding an extra element of traceability to the centrepiece of your Christmas decorations.
What's more, the import of live plants from abroad poses a huge biosecurity risk to plant species in the UK, introducing pests and diseases that can have a devastating effect on our farms and woodland. Opting for a tree with a Grown in Britain certificate guarantees your Christmas tree won't have been imported, helping to reduce this risk as much as possible - find your nearest Grown in Britain seller here.
Remember, don’t be afraid to ask about the environmental credentials of the tree you’re thinking of buying!
Visit the Organic Christmas Hub
Whichever choice you make, reducing the environmental impact of your tree is just one way to have be more sustainable this year. Visit our Christmas Hub to find out how else to be part of the organic movement over the festive period.Explore the hub