Decorating Christmas trees is a tradition in many homes. After all, presents are waiting under this tree, Christmas carols are sung, and greetings are exchanged. The decorated tree becomes the centre of Christmas warmth for several weeks. No wonder that the choice of a Christmas tree is essential! If environmental issues are important to you, you may now be wondering whether to buy a live Christmas tree or an artificial one.
In fact, it all depends on the circumstances. If you already have an artificial Christmas tree in your basement, don’t buy a new one. You can treat your artificial tree as an integral part of the Christmas tradition. Remember how many Christmas Eves that tree has accompanied you? How many Christmas memories do you have with it? Also, using what you already have will always be the greenest option! Less shopping means less waste and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. And last but not least: you save money.
Studies show that nearly 70% of an artificial Christmas tree’s carbon footprint comes from production. These trees are made mainly of plastic, i.e. polyvinyl chloride or polyethylene. Their production consumes a lot of energy and resources, and on top of that: it emits dust, gases, and fumes. Every single artificial Christmas tree means a lot of pollution.
On the contrary, natural conifers absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Calculations vary depending on the species and age of the tree, but it is estimated that they can absorb nearly a tonne of carbon dioxide per acre. And although burning or decomposing releases some of this CO2, the final balance is still negative.
When choosing a live Christmas tree, you should pay attention to its origin. A Christmas tree should come from a plantation or a nursery, not from a natural forest! Also, remember that the less fertiliser used to grow it, the better.
An artificial Christmas tree has a long way to go before it reaches your home, and it’s usually not transported by flying carriage pulled by reindeers. It is worth mentioning the often quoted data of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which shows that 85% of artificial trees on the American market come from China. Even if only half of them were to go to Poland, this is still a lot – especially considering the total greenhouse gas emissions from transport.
The live Christmas trees in supermarkets may also be sourced from abroad. Many of them are imported to Poland from, among others, Germany, Ukraine or Ireland. However, it is definitely a shorter way than the journey from China. It is best to choose trees from local nurseries and plantations whenever possible. This way, we can be sure that not only is the journey to our home the shortest, but we also support local entrepreneurs.
An artificial Christmas tree can be used for many, many years. That is its main advantage. The high environmental costs of producing and transporting such a tree are spread over all the years it’s used. Data from WAP Sustainability Consulting from 2018 shows that it takes at least five years for the environmental impact of producing and transporting an artificial tree to equal that of a natural fir or spruce.
On the other hand, there are also many ways to extend the life cycle of a natural Christmas tree. If you buy a tree in a pot with a properly-developed root system, you can plant it after Christmas on a plot or in the garden. If it takes root, it can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for many years to come!
A good solution is also… renting a live Christmas tree! This option is offered by some nurseries, plantations, and commercial companies. Such trees are specially prepared, and along with it, you receive instructions on how to take care of a live Christmas tree at home. After Christmas, such a tree is carefully planted back in nature.
Unless you’re obsessed with the magic of Christmas, you’ll probably be thinking about how to get rid of your tree in late January. Disposal is also an essential part of a Christmas tree’s life cycle, and you should consider this before buying it.
In the case of an artificial Christmas tree, there are several options. You can say goodbye to it temporarily and hide it in the cellar or throw it away. An abandoned tree can be recycled if the municipal waste treatment plant has the proper facilities. Worst case scenario: it goes to a landfill, where it can take up to 500 years to decompose.
You can also try selling your artificial Christmas tree or simply giving it away. That way, you extend the tree’s lifespan for years to come.
After Christmas, a live tree (cut down or not taken care of good enough) will be compostable. If you don’t have this option, remember not to dispose of your tree in the waste bins, even those marked ‘BIO’. The municipality will be responsible for disposing of them. Therefore, it is very likely that there will be a special collection of post-Christmas trees in your area.
If there is a farm or a zoo in the vicinity, it is worth knocking on their door. After all, conifers are a delicacy for horses, goats and sheep. This could be a tasty gift for them! Who knows, maybe next Christmas they’ll speak up and thank you for the present?
A live or artificial Christmas tree?
Whichever tree you choose, the essence of Christmas is spending time with loved ones. There are many different ways to take care of the environment during the Christmas season. Keep reading the TerGo blog to find out even more!