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Real or fake Christmas tree: what’s better for the environment?

Can’t wait to decorate your house for Christmas? The Christmas tree is the must-have centrepiece of every festive home. But what's better for the environment: a real or fake Christmas tree? And what else should we be looking out for?

Post updated: November 11th, 2021

4 minute read

real or fake christmas tree

When it comes to choosing between real or fake Christmas trees, many people want to know which is better for the environment. And while real trees are naturally beautiful and give off a fabulous festive scent, once you’ve bought an artificial tree, it can be brought out year after year.

So which is the most eco-friendly Christmas tree? We take a look.

Real or fake Christmas trees: Where to start

After another tough year, many of us are already excited to prepare our homes for the festive season. But as well as wanting to make our houses look beautiful, we’re becoming increasingly tuned in to wanting to make the best decision for the environment too.

So when you’re weighing up the pros and cons of real Christmas trees, here’s what to consider.

Pros and cons of real Christmas trees

There are lots of advantages to buying a real tree including:

  • Most real Christmas trees are grown as a crop and not removed from natural forests. So, they are a sustainable product, cut down and then replaced by a seedling.
  • Taking a family trip to a local Christmas tree farm can become a family tradition. And it feels a lot more festive than getting a fake tree down from the loft and piecing it together.
  • Your home will have a lovely scent.
  • They can be recycled.
  • If you buy one in a pot, you can plant it in your garden and bring it back in each year.

However, there are some downsides to real Christmas trees:

  • To keep your carbon footprint down, you’ll need to buy a locally grown Christmas tree.
  • If you are getting a tree without roots, you need to make sure you dispose of it responsibly so that it doesn’t end up in landfill. Either chop up and mulch down for compost, or burn it. Or check your local authority Christmas Tree collection service.

Pros and cons of fake Christmas trees

And when it comes to fake Christmas trees, here are some factors to consider:

  • They can be expensive to buy but can save you money over time if you use them for many years.
  • They are low maintenance.
  • But they are made from plastic and metal
  • And they also can’t be recycled.

Eco-friendly Christmas trees: which is best?

If you’re looking for an eco-friendly Christmas tree, experts say real trees are the better choice. While they’re growing, a real fir tree naturally absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen.

However, fake trees are made from plastic and metal in an energy-intensive production process. Most artificial trees are shipped from China, which adds more to their carbon footprint. And while real trees can be recycled, once you’ve finished with a fake tree it’s going to sit in landfill.

In fact, a 2 metre fake tree has a carbon footprint of around 40kg, more than ten times that of a real tree that is disposed of properly, according to the Carbon Trust. So you would need to use an artificial tree 10 times to keep its environmental impact lower than that of a real tree. So make sure you choose one that looks like it is built to last, and keep re-using it.

Sustainable Christmas trees: what to look for

If you’re looking for sustainable Christmas trees, when you’re buying a real tree look out for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified trees as they’re grown in a responsibly managed way and often minimise pesticide use, recommends the Soil Association.

And if possible, source from a farm shop or organic independent retailer. It says these are more likely to avoid using pesticides completely. Plus, the more locally sourced the better. Not only are you reducing miles the tree will have travelled but you’re supporting the local economy too.

real or fake christmas tree

Eco-friendly Christmas trees: What if I already own a fake one?

If you already own an artificial Christmas tree, keep using it and make it last as long as possible.

Sustainable Christmas trees: rent a Christmas tree

Did you know it’s possible to rent a real Christmas tree? By renting a Christmas tree, you will get to enjoy the benefits of real tree without worrying about disposing of it. The tree will be replanted and used again the following year, meaning zero waste. The tree will also continue to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere between festive periods, are pot grown so use less fertiliser, and you’ll know exactly where it is grown so can guarantee its carbon footprint.

Some families have been known to name their rented Christmas tree and go back for it the next year, which means you can watch it grow with your children. And the local farms renting them give advice on how to keep your tree alive.

Second hand Christmas trees

If you like the convenience of a fake tree, look out for ones that may be given away for free on websites like www.freecycle.org. This means you’ll be extending the life of a fake tree that has already been manufactured. Or if you have a budget, try Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace and eBay and do your bit by rehoming a Christmas tree.

Happy decorating!

What type of tree do you prefer? And would you rent a Christmas tree? Tell us in the comments box below


Leave a comment (3)* Required

  1. Barbara GleaveBarbara Gleave

    I’ve had my artificial tree for 40 years. Still looks good. I expect it to see me out.

  2. Arthur ShawArthur Shaw

    We’ve had a fake tree we brought from a Oxfam shop for about 20 years, which was about 35 years old when we brought itSo a well used fake tree

  3. Peter SoppPeter Sopp

    I buy real Christmas trees from a local tree farm, mainly because the smell of a real tree is unique.

    Rent a tree? Interesting concept but what happens if you return it after 2 weeks in a hot room and it is beyond saving?

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