Why real Christmas trees are awesome!
A lot of us will be getting all festive this weekend as the fourth Sunday before Christmas is upon us (already!). This is the weekend when many people choose to hang their Christmas wreaths, crack open the mulled wine and put up the Christmas tree. It makes sense, then, that this time of year is a common time to start wondering which is better for the environment, a real Christmas tree or a fake one.
We think that real trees are pretty amazing – so we’ve outlined some of the (environmental and non-environmental) reasons why.
7 minutes to read
Fake or real Christmas tree? The big eco debate
A real tree is natural and surely has been an aid to the environment during its growing life, but doesn’t chopping it down and then disposing of it negate that?
On the other side of the fence, while a fake tree might last a number of years, they’re made of plastic and metal and when they are disposed of, may sit in landfill not doing much for many years.
The fact is though, the real Christmas tree industry seems to have been misrepresented over the last few years. So we’re here to be real tree cheerleaders!
Real Christmas trees are climate change fighters!
Firstly, real trees help to fight climate change while they’re growing. Every single tree in existence is a tree that’s helping to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and produce oxygen, too.
Real trees have lower carbon footprints
So what’s the carbon footprint of a real tree vs. a fake one?
When looking at the differences between real and fake Christmas trees it becomes easy to see, very quickly, why real trees come up trumps.
According to the Carbon Trust, a real Christmas tree has a significantly lower carbon footprint than a fake one, even if it’s not properly recycled.
A 10-15 year old tree (around 1.5 to 2 metres tall), when disposed of responsibly, has a carbon footprint of around 3.5kg CO2e*, whereas a tree that is not recycled can have a footprint of up to 16kg CO2e.
On the flipside, a 2 metre fake tree, based on production alone, comes in at a hefty 4okg CO2e. That’s not taking into consideration, which, when you factor in the fact most fake trees are manufactured and shipped from Asia, means the carbon footprint of a fake tree is even higher.
*CO2e = carbon dioxide equivalent
So you’d need to keep a fake Christmas tree for close to 10 years to even come close to the carbon footprint of using (and disposing of) a real Christmas tree each year.
Other good reasons to consider a real Christmas tree
The sustainability credentials of Christmas trees are the most topical in recent times, but there are some other very good reasons to choose a real tree.
You’re supporting forests
Your real Christmas tree shouldn’t come from a wild forest, but Christmas tree farms are carefully-controlled forests in their own right.
They still become a habitat for local wildlife during their 10-15 year growth cycle. It’s highly unlikely that an entire Christmas tree farm will be harvested in one go, so even removing some trees each year means there are plenty of nesting spots, food and shelter for wildlife throughout the year ahead.
Did you know? According to Statista.com, there are currently over 350 million Christmas trees growing in the US. Around 1,000 trees can be grown per acre of land. That’s 350,000 acres of Christmas tree forest in the US alone. Add this to the estimated 60 million trees sold across Europe every year, multiplied by 10 as that’s how long the average tree takes to grow. That’s 600 million trees or 600,000 acres.
This means that between the US and Europe, there are Christmas trees growing on an area larger than Yosemite National Park. That’s a lot of forest!
They’re a sustainable crop
If you’re really keen on supporting sustainable business, then this is one for you.
On average, a Christmas tree farmer will plant up to 10 seedlings to replace each tree harvested for sale.
Planting and harvesting are key to supporting the farm for future years, as well as protecting the local environment.
Most Christmas tree associations will work with their members and growers to ensure this balance is upheld.
We’ve already seen, from the carbon footprint stats, that even when disposing of a real tree improperly you’re producing less of a footprint than with a fake tree. However, recycling your tree is a breeze!
You can recycle your real tree by:
- Replanting – if it came with its root ball, plant it in the garden or re-pot it ready for next year
- Arranging for collection (or dropping off) at your local council point so it can be turned into mulch
- Repurposing – fancy yourself a handy project? Let the wood dry and season it properly, and you can make something entirely new from your tree!
Buying your real Christmas tree locally
2020 has been a difficult year for us all, so shopping small and local is extremely important. Many small businesses, including Christmas tree farms, will be desperately in need of the income boost, so look up your nearest farm and head out!
You might even find that your local tree farmer will pleasantly surprise you by:
- Remembering your name next year
- Getting in touch with you ahead of the season to check if you’d like a tree put aside
- Giving you personalised service, which isn’t always possible in the big shops where fake trees are sold (or if you order online!)
Speaking of supporting local businesses in times of trouble, we found this article really interesting. It’s all about how Christmas tree stocks are in short supply in some areas due to the 2008 financial crisis. If a tree takes 10 years to grow, then the stock beginning to be available in 2018/19 was the stock planted during the recession in 2008.
If we saw a drop in sales this year because of COVID 19, it could result in a smaller stock available in 2030 and the few years following.
The fun reasons for having a real Christmas tree
Now we’ve covered the serious reasons for buying a real Christmas tree, what about the more fun and exciting reasons?
Real Christmas trees smell amazing
You can’t deny that the smell of a real tree at Christmas makes Christmas feel that little bit more festive. It’s an uplifting scent, that provides a woody, clean and homely aroma. Perfect for sipping your mulled wine or hot chocolate in front of the fire.
It’s a fun family outing
Taking the whole family to go and ‘pick the tree’ is a great outing. Memories are made on the farm and, as an added bonus, it gets you all out of the house, away from any screens and into the fresh air.
They’re not perfect
Sure, fake trees are perfectly conical and you can bend and twist the branches to fill ‘that’ gap but a real tree is unique and you can guarantee nobody else will have one quite like yours.
Will it be real or fake for you this year?
So, have we converted you?
Even though real trees do stack up to be amazing in many ways, this doesn’t mean all fake trees are awful.
If you already have one you love, then using it until the very end of its life and disposing of it as responsibly as you can is definitely the best bet.
Not had enough trees for one day? Try our tree quiz:
Trees give us so many things: shelter, building materials, food and even the air we breathe! To celebrate 45 years of The Tree Council's National Tree Week (which runs from 28th November until 6th December in 2020), we've put together a quiz to test how well you know your trees.