It’s almost time to deck the halls with boughs of holly, stick Mariah Carey on repeat and kit out the Christmas tree with sparkling lights and baubles.
Everyone who celebrates Christmas has a different tree ritual: be that choosing one from a farm, dragging last year’s artificial plant from the loft, or nipping to the garden centre for a last minute spruce or fir. But when it comes to real versus fake, what is the most environmentally-friendly tree you can get?
According to the Carbon Trust, unless you’re committed to keeping an artificial tree for a decade, you should try to avoid them due to the large amount of used in their production. “The general rule is that real trees are much better, unless you’re going to use a fake tree for several years,” a spokesperson tells HuffPost UK.
Artificial trees may be made from steel from China which is then wrapped in plastic, according to the Carbon Trust. Just making the components will have involved mining metal and extracting fossil fuels, and then there’s the energy used to manufacture and transport the tree to consider.
When it comes to real Christmas trees, however, production can have a positive effect on the environment: as they grow, the trees will absorb carbon dioxide and other potentially harmful gases from the atmosphere while emitting oxygen.
They can also function as a great nature reserve, Nick Hendy from Langford Lakes Christmas Tree Farm in Somerset tells HuffPost UK. He runs the family-owned farm along with his father Reg, mother Ann and brother Shaun. They’ve been selling trees since 1992, tending to thousands every year.
The family buy-in young trees for planting, which are transported from places like Denmark, then grow the trees for up to a decade before cutting them for sale. Over that decade birds often nest in the trees – though chicks are long gone by the time winter comes around.
The best way to find a tree that has minimal impact – and minimal road miles – is to buy from a local supplier, says Hendy. “If you buy a tree from a local grower, you’re supporting your local community and allowing that farmer to work in a way that benefits nature more than conventional farming,” he explains. “We’ve got about three or four acres, which isn’t suitable for trees so we just leave it to nature, completely. And we can do that because of the yields of the trees.”
If you buy a tree from a local grower, you’re supporting your local community and allowing that farmer to work in a way that benefits nature."
When it comes to taking your Christmas tree down, post-Christmas, the best place for your artificial tree is in the loft, where it can live happily until you’re ready to use it next year – and many years to come. Because artificial trees are made up of multiple materials, they are practically impossible to recycle – which means when you come to chucking your tree out, it will most likely end up in landfill – with the plastic components potentially sticking around for hundreds of years.
Real trees obviously can’t make it till next year – or not unless yours comes with roots and you want to add it to your garden. But they can have a use after the festive season. At Hendy’s farm, for example, they encourage people to bring back their trees after the Christmas, so that the farm can turn them into a mulch, returning their goodness to the ground.
Depending on your local authority, Hendy says, some councils will also compost, recycle or mulch trees once they have collected them from the curb side.
“People want a natural but false-looking Christmas tree that is almost perfect in most cases,” he adds. “Plastic has been all over the news in the couple of years - and it’s something that’s never going to go away unless we treat it right. We need to stop using plastic and I don’t think a plastic tree could compete. You can’t beat a real tree in your house.”