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Almost all of us who celebrate Christmas will put up a Christmas tree of some kind. It is one of the most recognisable symbols of Christmas.
If you are considering buying a new tree this year, should you go for an artificial one or a real tree? What are the environmental considerations for each type of Christmas tree?
Both types of Christmas tree have their pros and cons when it comes to the environmental considerations.
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For many people, going out to choose this year’s Christmas tree is all part of the festive tradition; having a real, living fir tree in your house harks back to the ancient practice of bringing evergreens into the house to celebrate the winter solstice.
Certainly a real tree does feel more festive, with the Christmassy smell of pine filling the house and that feeling of having a living thing to decorate your home with.
However a real Christmas tree is a commitment, albeit a short term one. The dreaded ‘needle drop’ can largely be avoided if the tree is watered regularly – this applies to both rooted and cut trees. If you want to be able to water your cut tree you will need to keep it in a special stand which can hold a water reservoir.
Furthermore, if a real Christmas tree is allowed to dry out it can become a fire hazard.
There are real environmental benefits to choosing a real Christmas tree.
According to Earth911, one acre of trees grown for the Christmas market can produce enough oxygen for eighteen people, and can absorb over a ton of CO2 in its lifetime.
A properly managed Christmas tree farm will plant more saplings each year than the number of trees that they cut down, and the trees provide a habitat for birds and wildlife.
Lastly, when the festive season is over you do not need find storage space your tree; a rooted tree can be planted in your garden and a cut one can be recycled into mulch by your local council.
Many local councils will take away your real Christmas tree with the roadside collection or will offer easy-to-reach collection centres, which are kept open until well into January. The environmental benefits of your fir tree are however rather negated if your tree ends up on a bonfire or in landfill.
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So what about artificial Christmas trees?
The price of artificial trees varies widely from that of a real tree so it may be vastly cheaper or much more expensive depending on which one you choose to buy. Since you can use your artificial Christmas tree for several years this can still work out to be more economical, even if you buy a top of the range model.
You can also keep your fake tree as a standby if, for example, your cat savages the real tree or you forget to water it and it loses its needles before 25th December.
Modern types of artificial trees which successfully mimic real trees both look good and even smell vaguely pine like – at least for the first year. Needle drop is pretty much non-existent and perfectionists can place every branch at the perfect angle if they wish.
If you prefer the retro charm of a tinsel tree, you will find that the tinsel sheds mercilessly and you will still be vacuuming pieces out of the carpet in July. I have a soft spot for tinsel trees, having grown up with them, but as a child I remember having to meticulously put plastic ends on each sharp metal branch to prevent injury. This type would definitely be best avoided where small children will be running around.
Artificial pine trees tend to be designed with a clump of needles at the end so that the sharp end part of each branch is covered.
Any artificial tree will not be recyclable in any way so whether you choose tinsel or fake pine needles they are both made from plastic, and so when it is disposed of, it will inevitably end up in landfill.
However, if you choose an artificial tree, look after it and carefully store it, the tree can give many years or even decades of service.
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Well, there will be an environmental impact whatever choice of Christmas tree that you make, and of course you also have to decide what suits your lifestyle as well.
The answer is that a real, locally grown rooted tree is the least harmful to the environment, if you are prepared to commit to looking after it and planting it out afterwards.
A real cut tree is the next best option, as long as it is properly composted rather than burnt or sent to landfill.
The least environmentally friendly option is an artificial tree, however if you are the type of person that will keep your tree, according to Thomas Harman of the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) as long as you keep your artificial tree for at least 7 years and ideally 10 years, your artificial tree will be more environmentally friendly than a cut tree. Although bear in mind that ACTA is the trade body for the artificial Christmas tree industry.