Are you planning to buy your Christmas tree this afternoon? You’re not alone, as today is Bring Your Christmas Tree Home Day.
More Christmas trees will be purchased today than any other day of the year — and surveys show about 48 per cent of us will choose a real one rather than a fake one.
Half of us say the environment is a deciding factor, and at first glance, a real tree seems the planet-friendly choice. But it’s not that simple.
Seven million real trees are bought every Christmas in the UK, and as well as considerations such as where they’re grown and the energy used to ship them, what happens to them when we chuck them out can make a big difference to their carbon footprint.
Also, while artificial trees made of unrecyclable plastic take a lot of energy to manufacture, some kinds are less harmful than others.
They can also last for years, which may bring their carbon footprint down.
Then there are ‘trendy’ trees — arty creations made of plywood or metal wrapped in wool, for example, with their own eco pros and cons.
Here, Jenny Wood finds out which tree truly is the most green . . .
REAL CUT TREE
With seven million real trees bought every Christmas in the UK Jenny Wood explores which tree is the most eco-friendly
Traditional Nordmann fir, from £39.99, dobbies.com
Real Christmas trees, which absorb harmful carbon monoxide as they grow, have a lot going for them. But to be truly green, they should be grown sustainably, with new trees replacing those cut down, and not be transported too far.
‘Always choose one that’s FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified,’ says Emma. ‘Pick an organic one approved by the Soil Association, grown without harmful pesticides.’
For disposal, burning it is a no-no, as it releases carbon dioxide, while sending it to landfill creates the even more harmful gas methane. The best option?
‘Most councils offer a recycling service where trees are shredded and used as mulch in parks and public spaces,’ says Emma.
REAL POTTED TREE
The real potted tree can be kept in the garden, need to be watered daily and kept away from radiators
Pot-grown Christmas tree, from £29.99, dobbies.com
Pot-grown trees can be kept in the garden, and brought inside each December.
‘Anything you can reuse is good,’ says Emma Priestland, a Friends of the Earth campaigner. ‘Choose one with a big pot, to make sure roots are established, which will keep it going.’
However, you’ll only get eco brownie points if you keep it alive past Christmas, so get it used to a warmer temperature by sitting it in a shed or outhouse for a few days before it enters your home.
Do the same before it returns to the garden. Water it daily and keep it away from radiators and fireplaces, to avoid it drying out.
POLYETHYLENE FAKE TREE
The newer artificial tree use polyethylene (PE) plastic to create realistic needles. They score two out of five on eco-friendliness
Ultra mountain pine, from £89.99, christmastree world.co.uk
A newer kind of artificial tree uses polyethylene (PE) plastic to create realistic needles.
Melted PE is poured into a mould from a real tree, then branches are clipped on.
While more plastic is needed for it than a scrawnier polyvinyl chloride (PVC) tree, it’s a safer choice. ‘I’d choose PE over PVC, as it doesn’t contain toxic chlorine,’ says Emma.
It’s hard to find a PVC-free tree, but this one is 70 per cent PE. While these tend to be more expensive, they are usually better quality, so should last longer.
‘Reuse it, then pass it on,’ says Emma.
ARTIFICIAL PVC TREE
PVC trees cannot be recycled and while it won’t create carbon dioxide, it never decomposes
6ft Cannock Great Value Christmas Tree, £34.99, very.co.uk
The most popular — and cheapest — artificial trees are made by shredding PVC plastic into tinsel-like strands, and winding them around metal branches.
‘These trees are the worst — PVC is one of the most toxic forms of plastic, because of the chlorine molecules it contains,’ says Emma.
‘It’s very polluting both because of the energy and resources used to make it, and if it’s burnt at the end of its life.’
PVC trees can’t be recycled, as the plastic and metal is mixed up. While it won’t create carbon dioxide, it never decomposes.
If you already own one, reduce its environmental impact with repeated use. The Carbon Trust estimates a plastic tree used for three years is better in carbon footprint terms than a real tree in landfill.
If it is used for eight years, it is better than a real tree that is burnt. Used for 12 years, it is better than a real tree that ends up as compost.
‘Afterwards, donate it,’ suggests Emma.
Eco-friendliness: 5/5 (if reused for 12 years or more. Otherwise: 1/5)
There are some places where customers can rent a tree. It can be 35 per cent cheaper than buying a tree
Rental from about £20 from some garden centres and companies
Some places such as lovea christmas tree.co.uk or pinesandneedles.com will ‘rent’ you a real tree, then collect it.
‘This is fantastic — anything that gives your tree a longer life is positive, and less hassle,’ says Emma.
It can be 35 per cent cheaper than buying a tree, but you must not cut the tree or use spray-on fake snow.
If a smaller tree is more your style then a mini letterbox Treasure tree from bloomandwild.com may be an option
Mini letterbox Treasure tree, £34, bloomandwild.com
Big isn’t always better. This is so small it can be posted. ‘Little trees are more sustainable, as they use less water,’ says Emma.
You’ll need to keep it alive in your garden after Christmas to help the planet.
BIRCH BRANCH HANGING TREE WITH JUTE STRING
A trendy Birch Christmas Tree Hanger may also be an option. ‘Jute, a vegetable-based fibre, is more environmentally friendly than cotton but it tends to have travelled a long way from where it was produced,’ says Emma
Birch Christmas Tree Hanger, £14.99, lights4fun.co.uk
A trend born from social media, rustic-looking hanging trees — made with wooden branches strung together with jute string — take up less room and use fewer resources than many other types of tree.
‘Jute, a vegetable-based fibre, is more environmentally friendly than cotton but it tends to have travelled a long way from where it was produced,’ says Emma.
‘Pick a smaller one, as it will have used up fewer resources.’ Look for sustainably sourced, FSC-approved wood — or better still, forage for fallen branches to make one yourself.
WOODEN SLOT-TOGETHER TREE
The wooden-slot together tree was originally designed for shop windows. It is made from two pieces of wood slotted together
Alternative wooden 4ft Christmas tree, £210, bombus.co.uk
Originally designed for shop window displays, ‘flatpack’ trees — made from two pieces of wood slotted together — are now making an appearance in our homes too, partly thanks to their popularity on Instagram.
After putting the tree together, you can string lights and hang decorations on it. ‘Look for wood that’s been sustainably sourced,’ says Emma.
‘And use it for as long as possible — not just as a fashion fad. At the end of its life, try to find a wood recycling service, perhaps at your council recycling centre, rather than burning it.’
WIRE AND WOOL TREE
The hard-to-recycle Arran wool-wrapped range is made from aluminium/iron alloy, so you’ll need to reuse it
Arran wool-wrapped tree, £65, habitat.co.uk
The Arran wool-wrapped range (from £28) is handmade, which ‘is better than factory-made, from an energy point of view’, says Emma.
This is made of a hard-to-recycle aluminium/iron alloy, so you’ll need to reuse it. ‘Later, ask a recycling centre if it can take it, and separate the materials,’ says Emma.