Christmas is just around the corner and it will soon be time to deck the halls. However, the festive preparations are not all fun and games and many are faced with an annual dilemma. Should you buy a real or an artificial Christmas tree?

While either option can be found on both the naughty and nice lists, the short answer is – it depends. The environmental impact of both real and fake Christmas trees can be influenced by many factors. So, make an informed decision this holiday season. This article takes a closer look at the pros and cons of real and artificial Christmas trees.

Table of Contents:

If you are:

  • Thinking of buying a Christmas tree;
  • Wondering which is more environmentally friendly – real or fake trees;
  • Looking for the pros and cons of both types;

Keep reading! This article will answer your questions.

Real Christmas trees

Prior to the 1930s, real Christmas trees were used around all households. Decorating your home with a real tree is tradition even today. Going out to the tree farm and looking for the perfect one has been a favourite of many families for ages. After all, there are few things that bring out the Christmas spirit as well as the smell of a fresh pine. However, they are losing popularity in recent years and sales of the artificial kind are on the rise. Many of those that choose fake trees over real ones have different reasons, but the main one is the guilt they feel about cutting a living tree.

Trying to be more environmentally friendly by chopping down a live evergreen may seem counter-intuitive. After all, aren’t we trying to save the forests? Well, here’s the thing – most Christmas trees aren’t taken from wild woods. They are grown in plantations specifically to be cut down and used during the holidays. Therefore, there is no actual deforestation taking place. What’s more – lots of tree farms plant more trees than they can sell! For every conifer that gets cut down, 1 to 3 new ones are planted. This means there are actually more and more trees growing and producing oxygen every year.

Real trees are high maintenance, however. After bringing the tree home, you need to be careful where you put it, as it cannot survive close to heat sources. A real Christmas tree also needs to be watered every day and sweeping up the fallen needles is a must if you want to keep your home looking neat.

Another factor that may sway you away from buying a real tree is the disposal of it after the holidays. Many people don’t know what to do with their evergreens and simply throw them away. A live tree that ends up in a landfill can emit the equivalent of 16kg of greenhouse gases. It will release methane due to the rotting process. This is not very green, but don’t worry – it’s not the only option! Real trees are recyclable. They can be mulched and used for landscaping. Potted trees, on the other hand, can be replanted in your garden and used again next year.

Pros

  • Reusable and recyclable
  • Grown in tree farms that benefit the environment
  • Can be more environmentally friendly than fake trees
  • Their scent and natural look are irreplaceable

Cons

  • Can be difficult to transport
  • Disposal is sometimes tricky
  • High maintenance

Artificial Christmas Trees

The use of fake Christmas trees in households started when the American toilet brush company, Addis Brush, created an artificial tree using brush bristles. This way they inadvertently kickstarted an entire industry.

There are undeniable benefits to choosing an artificial Christmas tree. One of the main reasons people opt for fake trees is their convenience. There are several other motives other than not having to water the tree or sweep up fallen needles. There is no need to wander around in the freezing cold looking for the live conifer that is just right. Artificial trees are also a lot easier to transport and store. All you need to do is pop the packaged tree in your car. After the holidays, simply put it back in its box and store it away to be used next year.

That brings us to the second point – reusability. Having a fake tree waiting for you in the attic is far more convenient than having to drive out to the farm every year. You may need to pay a bit more for a good quality tree, but reusing it year after year saves you money in the long run.

That’s just it, though. You need to reuse your fake tree to make it environmentally friendly. Most artificial trees are made of plastic and metal. The combination of these materials means they aren’t recyclable or biodegradable. This means that your tree will end up in a landfill and once it does – it’s there forever. Researchers found that it could take up to 20 years of usage for your tree to become more environmentally friendly than a real one. The carbon footprint of a 6.5 ft artificial Christmas tree is equal to 40 kg of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than twice that of a live one that ends up in a landfill and around 10 times that of a real tree that is burned! If you do opt for a fake tree, it’s recommended that you use it for at least 10 years.

Pros

  • Convenient – easy to store and transport
  • Guilt-free
  • Reusable
  • No allergens
  • Low maintenance
  • Cheaper in the long run

Cons

  • Non-recyclable, non-biodegradable
  • Can be less environmentally friendly
  • Lacks the beloved winter scent
  • Most artificial trees are visibly fake

How to choose a non-toxic artificial tree

Some fake trees are made entirely out of PVC and often contain toxic materials such as lead to stabilise their shape. Prolonged exposure to such materials has been shown to play a major role in stunting early-childhood development as well as nerve damage. Many scientists now believe that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

Fortunately, many companies have traded in pure PVC for a mix of polyethylene (PE) and PVC. This not only reduces the potential toxicity, but also allows for more realistic fake Christmas trees. Three-dimensional PE needles are placed at the front of the branch, while flat PVC bristles fill in the backs.

If you have chosen to buy an artificial tree this year, here is what to look for in order to choose the safest one:

  • Look for the phrase ‘molded tips’ on the packaging.
  • Check the needles at the front of the branches. PE bristles are rounded and life like, whereas PVC bristles are flat.

Are Christmas trees a fire hazard?

There are quite a few myths floating around regarding the fire risks posed by real and artificial Christmas trees. It is commonly believed that real trees are more susceptible to catching fire, due to the fact that artificial trees have a fire-retardant coating.

Although real Christmas trees can catch fire faster, flame-retardant fake trees will only resist fire for some time. When they do burn, they emit large amounts of highly toxic smoke.

As long as you take proper care of your real Christmas tree, it will be much less likely to cause harm due to fire. Here are some tips on how to reduce the risk of your real tree going up in flames.

  • When buying a tree, choose a fresh one with a deep, bright colour. Avoid dry or browning trees.
  • If the tree was pre-cut, remove about an inch from the trunk and place the tree in water.
  • Keep the tree fresh by watering it regularly.
  • A real tree will always drop some needles, no matter how well you take care of it. Make sure to sweep up any fallen needles.
  • Avoid overloading electrical sockets and go easy on the Christmas lights.
  • Switch the tree lights off at night before going to bed.
  • Do not place the tree near heat sources or open fires.

The Final Verdict

After taking everything into consideration, we support and recommend the use of real Christmas trees. Not only are they better for the environment, but they also carry a sense of nostalgia and perfectly embody the Christmas spirit.

Nevertheless, a real Christmas tree may not be the right choice for you, and that will depend on how the tree is used and what conditions you have to accommodate it.

In Need of a Christmas Tree?

To make this holiday season less stressful, Fantastic Services offers a Christmas tree delivery and installation service. You can book a full service, including installation and even disposal after the holidays, or just have the tree delivered. A team of professionals will carry out the delivery and tree setup. Once the holidays have passed, you need not worry about what to do with your evergreen. The team can collect the tree for you and recycle it.

Bring the holiday joy to your household! Find out more about our Christmas tree delivery service here.

Learn more

Takeaways

  • You need to use an artificial Christmas tree for at least 10 years for it to become more environmentally friendly
  • Real Christmas trees are grown in tree farms specifically to be cut down for the holidays
  • Fake trees can be toxic if they catch fire
  • Real trees are the traditional Christmas choice
  • Artificial trees that are made out of PE and PVC are safer and more realistic than 100% PVC trees
  • Overall, live Christmas trees are the more environmentally friendly option

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Did we miss anything? Do you have any tips for choosing a Christmas tree? Let us know in the comments below or give us a shout on social media!

Image source: shutterstock / kryzhov

  • Last update: October 22, 2019

Posted in Garden Advice, Plants in the UK

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