A lot of people buy artificial Christmas trees in the belief that it benefits the environment, but environmentalists and energy analysts disagree. We need only look at a single element of the hundreds of thousands of artificial trees that will be put up and decorated this Christmas: they are all made of plastic.
Most fake trees are made of PVC, a plastic which is notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to recycle because it requires such specialist equipment. It is the plastic which creates most of an artificial tree’s carbon footprint; the rest is created by the industrial emissions produced when the tree is made and by shipping the trees long distances before they arrive in the UK.
A two metre artificial tree has a carbon footprint equivalent to about 40kg of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than twice that of a real tree that ends its life in landfill, and more than 10 times that of a real tree which is burnt.
Fake to the left and real to the right
Most local authorities now offer a collection service for real trees which they shred and use on gardens and parks; this is the greenest way to dispose of your real tree. According to some experts a real tree that is recycled by chipping or is kept growing in a pot or in the garden, can have negligible or even negative emissions.
A two metre real tree, if it ends up in landfill, could result in a carbon footprint equivalent to 16kg of carbon dioxide because in landfill, the tree will decompose and produce methane gas, which is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. But even in landfill, the carbon footprint of a real tree is smaller than that of an artificial tree.
. . . in the UK there are about 100m Christmas trees growing. . .
A Christmas tree grower claims: “At any one time in the UK there are about 100m [Christmas] trees growing with all the benefits that trees give to the environment. These trees would not be growing if it weren’t for the Christmas tree market,”
If you are shopping for your Christmas tree this weekend, Friends of the Earth recommend that you look for a real tree that is locally produced, or at the very least grown in the UK.
A version of this post was first published in December 2019
I have an 5ft artificial christmas tree that I bought 2nd hand over 6 years ago. I wonder if the carbon footprint of that would still be greater than if I had bought 6 real trees transported them in my car and then disposed of them? I am a great believer in reducing plastic waste and I intend to keep my tree a lifetime.
Some of us are just natural recyclers, Blueandpink; well done. I think the point we are trying to make is that nothing is simple these days; if we are going to survive the adjustments that the planet seems to be making to accommodate us, we have to measure every step very carefully.