Christmas is just around the corner, and you may be wondering whether you should buy a real tree that only lasts for one season or get a fake tree that will last you several years and avoid any hassle and maintenance? From an environmental perspective, which Christmas tree has a lower carbon footprint and environmental impact?
Of course, some people may choose not to buy a tree, nor make any Christmas decorations, which is undoubtedly the most environmental-friendly way to go. However, for me personally, that is not the route I want to take. No matter how environmental-friendly we are, it’s unavoidable that we will always create a carbon footprint, from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, and the everyday transportation we take. Even as we take a breath we exhale carbon dioxide that may pollute the environment. Not everyone is ready, or even planning to move into the middle of woods, live in a tiny house off the grid and be 100% self-sufficient.
For me, the key to being environmentally friendly is to buy wisely, shop locally, and minimise unnecessary packaging. Sometimes, making small changes in everyday life can result in huge change in the long term. So today, let’s talk about the Christmas tree.
According to the Carbon Trust, a real 2-metre tree with proper disposal (chopped into wood chips or destroyed by a bonfire) has a carbon footprint of 3.5kg of carbon dioxide (CO2). However, if it ends up in a landfill, the footprint increases significantly to 16kg CO2. On the other hand, the carbon footprint of a fake 2-metre tree is estimated to be 40kg of CO2. This means you would have to reuse your fake tree for 12 years to make it greener than a real tree with proper disposal.
Why are real trees good for us?
It’s better for the environment if real trees are cultivated sustainably and locally. Although purchasing a real, cut-down tree may appear harmful to the environment, many trees in the United Kingdom have been cultivated expressly for Christmas and have been carefully farmed and it means the grower has replaced every tree they have cut down.
In fact, according to The Woodland Trust, for every tree taken down, up to ten trees are planted.
Another advantage of a real Christmas tree is the scent: pine and fir trees have a fresh, natural scent that lasts for weeks, making your home smell festive!
A real tree also creates more than just a pleasant odour; it collects carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, which helps to purify the air in your home.
However, if your real tree is not disposed of properly, you might end up tripling its carbon footprint. So how should you dispose of your tree?
Allow it to rot if you have a big garden. A real tree is biodegradable, and unlike treated timbers, it does not contain any preservatives. If nature is allowed to take its course, the wood will rot away and disappear into the compost within a year or two. The decaying tree fragments may also enrich the soil and provide food for the plants around.
Shred it if you’ve got access to a wood shredding machine. The decomposition of Christmas trees is dramatically accelerated when they’re shredded, plus this is excellent mulch for shrubs and pathways. Some councils and shops provide shredding services and the chopped tree will be used as fertiliser for farmland.
Finally, if you don’t have a garden and cannot access the wood shredding machine, you can just let the council do the job for you. Each year from the beginning of January to mid-January, local councils in the UK collect and recycle residents’ Christmas trees from collection points or directly from council estates and properties. So please visit your local council website and find out more information, don’t let your real Christmas tree go to waste after the festive season. Recycle it!
But what if you have a fake tree?
A few years ago, way before I started to practice a zero-waste lifestyle, since we were often told that cutting down trees negatively impacts the environment. I actually bought a fake Christmas tree without any research. 🙈
Plus, pine needles can also be harmful to dogs and cats if they are swallowed and so, a real tree may not be suitable for everyone.
As many fake trees are made of plastics that are not easy to recycle, experts suggest that if you already have one, it’s best to reuse them for as many years as possible. Alternatively, there are also some non-plastic options, such as paper or wooden trees.
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