Sustainable Christmas Trees: Real or Fake?

Close up of Sustainable Christmas Tree

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! I’m so excited this year, but as it’s first year living alone, I have the moral dilemma of looking for sustainable Christmas trees. Which are better – real trees, or fake ones?

I’m sure if you’re reading this, you’re also wondering the same thing. While there are plenty of ways to make Christmas more sustainable, trees throws up the biggest conundrum in my mind. They’re an investment, a hassle, and at the same time what makes Christmas feel really special!

Read on if you wish to know what decision I made…

Are Fake Trees The Most Sustainable Christmas Trees?

Fake Christmas trees can feel like a sustainable choice because they:

  • Prevent the cutting down of real trees
  • Can be stored and reused for Christmases to come

However, that’s about it when it comes to the benefits. It turns out fake Christmas trees are reused on average only 6 years, when they require at least 9 years of use to reduce their impact to below that of a natural tree bought each year.

On top of that, you’ve got the legacy of a fake tree to think about. If you dispose of a fake tree, it will most likely sit in landfill for hundreds of years, because it’s principally made of plastic.

So, there may be more to think about when getting an eco-friendly Christmas tree – even if fake ones don’t shed all over the living room floor!

Are Real Trees The Most Sustainable Christmas Trees?

Real Christmas trees can often be seen as the most sustainable option because they:

  • Absorb carbon when they grow
  • Will biodegrade quickly once finished with

However, real trees can vary both in terms of their quality, longevity, price, and social & environmental impact.

According to Hole Farm Trees, many of the real trees on sale in the UK are grown with chemicals and shipped in from Europe. They recommend looking for British-grown trees, to reduce the carbon miles required for delivery, as well as increase their freshness, and support British farmers.

On top of that, look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified trees, as they’re grown in a responsibly-managed way and often minimise pesticide use. If possible, use an organic retailer, for the almost total avoidance of pesticides.

And in relation to social sustainability, the best solution I’ve found not only permits you to have the ‘real thing’ in your home, but also provides another one to communities who truly need more trees. The Christmas Forest‘s ethical tree initiative provides sustainably-grown British and European trees, and for every tree sold, another is planted in Africa through its work with Tree Aid. If you live in or around London like I do, I’d highly recommend you go to one of their 10 pop-ups in the city.

How To Sustainably Dispose Of A Real Christmas Tree

If you do choose a real tree this year, and go for one with its roots still intact, as well as ample garden space, you can replant it!

However, for most of us, we don’t have that luxury. Despite a resounding vote for real trees when I put the question out on Twitter, it seems the preference comes down to price, look, and smell, rather than sustainability.

What we really need to consider when purchasing trees is how they will be disposed. UK Government advises the following four ways to safely and sustainably dispose of real Christmas trees:

  1. Replant your potted Christmas tree in a garden to give it a new lease of life. You could also add bird feeders to provide shelter for wildlife.
  2. Drop your tree off at a recycling centre where it can be turned into chippings for paths or turned into soil.
  3. Check with your local council to see if there’s a special collection service.
  4. Look for an organisation or charity that offers a ‘treecyling’ service where it could be used to build effective flood barriers in communities around the UK.

Sustainable Alternatives To A Christmas Tree

And finally, it would be remiss of me to not mention a few even-more-sustainable options to a Christmas tree:

Potted Trees

If you’ve got green fingers, consider a potted tree. My new-ish flat had been in desperate need of plants and decorations alike, so this coupled with a few festive candles really puts a smile on my face when I get home to see it all set up. It finally feels like home!

However, without much research before my decision, I know I’ll be facing an old, brown tree after the holiday season has passed. Look for pot-grown trees if you want them to stick around longer, and follow RHS’s guide to Christmas Tree Care too!

Planting A Real Tree

If you’d like to make a sustainable tree-shaped contribution this Christmas, consider paying an organisation such as Ecologi, Ecosia, One Tree Planted. In addition to that, you could consider offsetting your annual carbon emissions, which I did with Climate Wise this year.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas, whatever tree you decide to go for!


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