Guide to Choosing a Sustainable Christmas Tree

Today’s the 2nd December – First Sunday of Advent – so you must have already started digging around the boxes of decorations in the basement and wondering what else you need to buy for your Christmas celebrations.

Our trees adorned with lights, tinsel and decorations are the international symbol of Christmas.  Most people that celebrate have one: businesses, sports clubs  will have one during that time of the year. In fact, in 2014, an estimated 6 to 8 million real Christmas trees were purchased in the UK.

Choosing a Christmas tree can be confusing, especially when trying to pick the most environmentally friendly option.

This is divided into five sections:

  1. An Artificial Tree?
  2. What About Living Trees?
  3. Alternative Living trees
  4. Cut Trees?
  5. Alternative Christmas Trees

Typically, the first decision to be made is:

 

1. An Artificial Tree?

 

At a first glance, artificial trees appear to be the most sustainable option as they are reusable, right?  Adding to that, cutting down trees from their natural habitat to have them in our homes for a few weeks sounds redundant, right?  Nope!

The Carbon Trust estimates that a 2m artificial tree has a carbon footprint of around 40kg CO2e, meaning that its’ footprint is more than 2x that of a real tree that ends up in landfill, and more than 10x that of living trees that are burned.

Artificial trees, that resemble real trees, are mostly made of PVC plastic – so they are petroleum-based, energy intensive product that is non-recyclable. Additionally, they are usually produced in China, from there they are shipped around the world, adding to its’ high carbon footprint.

Despite being better for the environment, ‘fake’ trees do not require any maintenance like live trees do.  They are also made to look remarkably similar to the fullest, prettiest traditional trees.

 

Putting up their artificial tree
Oh the joys of assembling an artificial tree

 

Pros of Cons of Using an Artificial Tree 

 

Pros Cons

– No maintenance

-Can be left up for as long as you like

-Unrealistically full and beautiful

-No mess

-Made to be able to have lights and decorations hanging from it

 

– Must be reused at least 10 times for the environmental impact to be less than using a living tree

– Will end up in landfill one day (or degrade to being microplastics washing into out waterways?

-Does not contribute to local economy as most are made abroad

-Storage space needed

 

For those wanting an artificial tree, try finding a secondhand one on eBay, Gumtree, charity shop or even a from a friend or family member.

If for some reason you must get rid of your artificial tree, ask any friends or family if they need one, if not try to selling it or donating it to a children’s shelter, for example, to prolong its’ life before ending up in landfill.

 

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The ‘perfect’ Christmas tree look

 

 

2. What About Living Trees?

 

These are usually grown on a Christmas tree farm grown in the ground or in pots.  Also, purchasing a live tree  that grows naturally in your region contributes to a farmer’s livelihood and the local economy.

Living trees produce oxygen which improves indoor air quality and no artificial smells or scented candles are needed because of live tree’s aromatic fragrance, boosting everyone’s moods.

 

Pot-Grown vs Potted?

 

Pot-Grown Potted Trees
Grown from a seed in a container. These have a full complement of roots and can then be permanently replanted into your garden to grow on for years to come. Grown in a field, dug up and placed in a pot.  Digging up the trees from the ground causes root damage, disabling them to be replanted and will not survive after Christmas.

So be sure to enquire about which type it is.

Watch David Domoney’s Youtube video to learn more.

 

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Enter a caption

 

 

In the UK, Forever Green Christmas Trees is a family-run business that grows their trees in special pots in the ground,  allowing them to be uplifted, rented in those pots and replanted at our farm after the Christmas season.

 

  • To care for your pot-grown tree you must leave it in the garden for as long as possible, then gradually acclimatise it by putting it somewhere slightly warmer, like your garage and then bring it indoors, for a maximum of 12 days.  Keep an eye on it and if it looks unhappy or brittle, take it back outside
  • Make sure to use minimal ornaments, to not put additional stress on your tree

 

For those living in Switzerland,  Ecosapin  deliver your tree (potted or pot-grown), pick it back up for it to to be replanted or turned into bio gas depending on its’ condition. They also come with decorations!

 

 

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On sale 

 

 

3. Alternative Living Trees

 

If you live in a country where live ‘Christmas trees’ are not readily available and would rather not buy an artificial one you can simply  use one of your large house plants as a Christmas tree.  If you don’t have one, buy one and make it a permanent part of your home all year round.  It can be decorated and have lights on it as well!

 

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Alternative Christmas Tree 

 

 

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Another option?

 

Another living tree alternative could be using a living rosemary tree instead.  They would be considerably smaller but would have distinctive aroma and can be kept and used afterwards for some fresh rosemary.

 

 

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Keeping with the Time‘s rosemary tree and learn how to care for it here.

 

 

4. Cut Trees?

 

Typically, these are cut at the trunk, so try your best to find cut trees from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forests. This certification ensures that farming and harvesting of the trees do not contribute to natural habitat loss or destruction

A cut tree does not come in a pot, it simply comes cut at the trunk and usually stay netted, unwatered and browning until they are bought.  They also come with or need a stand of some sort, with a little reservoir of water.
It should be treated like a vase of cut flowers and can last up to 3 weeks until it looks completely dead.

  • This type of  ‘real’ Christmas tree is the easiest to care for out of the real trees and the cheapest, but cannot be replanted.
  • Caring for it only involves filling up the reservoir with water, checking the levels daily and topping up when necessary.

Search for some Christmas trees for sale in the UK, here or here.

Unfortunately, so many trees are cut and not sold, so perhaps opting for a tree in a pot reduces the demand for cut trees.

 

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Cut and packaged trees for sale

 

Many Christmas trees that are pot-grown are ‘rented’, meaning that the company delivers their trees and after the festivities, the tree is picked back up.  The business themselves claim responsibility for what happens to the trees.  Typically, if it pot-grown, they are planted into the ground or taken care of until next year, to be reused again.

Some trees are taken back and turned into mulch, compost or wood chippings.

Renting sounds like the better deal if you do not have the time to make use of or dispose of the tree responsibly.

See BBC’s video on ‘What Happens to to Old Christmas Trees?’ here.

 

 

5. Alternative Christmas Trees

 

There are other options . Look around the house to see what you have and get creative.

We’ve come across photos of trees made of cardboard, green bottles and newspapers.

Check out Family Sponge’s book tree.

 

Family Sponge Book Tree
A ‘tree’ made of books

 

 

Alternative Christmas Tree
Or you can stick one onto your wall temporarily

 

If none of these inspire you, have a look at this list of non-traditional Christmas trees, curated by Elle Decor.

If having any of the trees mentioned above do not interest you and you live the UK, check out some eco-friendly options from Not on the Highstreet for all budgets.

Here is one made of driftwood found on the beach for example or more budget friendly one here. 

Otherwise, if you’re handy, you can try and make one yourself.

 

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You can try to make one yourself

 

 

Final Tips

 

  • Do your research first
  • Ensure that members of the household will commit to maintaining the tree correctly if  necessary
  • Try your best to reduce the amount of travelling that needs to be done to get your Christmas tree
  • Make sure you use LED lights to save energy
  • Keep open flames away from all types of trees

 

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