It’s the age old question; which is more sustainable, the plastic or the pine? Every year, we see a lot of debate in the eco community over whether a plastic or real tree is the most sustainable option to adorn your living room with. There’s clear arguments for and against both sides, which makes it increasingly tricky to figure out which to pick!
To help you make the best choice for the environment this year, we’ve evaluated both options and provided what, in our opinion, is the most sustainable answer. Keep reading to find out more!
PLASTIC – FOR AND AGAINST
FOR: A plastic tree can be reused again and again every year. This writer remembers the same plastic tree being lugged down from the attic every December, before swiftly moving back to it’s hiding spot come January to await it’s next venture downstairs in 11 months’ time. Realistically, with the limited amount of time a Christmas tree is used each year (and even then, how little ‘use’ it actually receives) a good quality plastic Christmas tree could last you decades of Christmases, and purchasing items with long reuse value is one of the core pillars of sustainability.
Bonus!: On a personal level, a plastic tree saves you money every year and is easier to source than a real tree. Overall they are much more accessible, as well as lower maintenance, cheaper, and safer due to being flame retardant.
AGAINST: Buying a plastic tree from new, as with any plastic item, is contributing to plastic production – an unsustainable resource made from petroleum. Plastic trees are often made abroad too, which generates high shipping emissions, in addition to the emissions caused already by their actual production. Plastic Christmas trees also take hundreds if not thousands of years to biodegrade, meaning that while the reuse value of the tree may be environmentally friendly, it’s production process, journey to your home and inability to break down is anything but.
REAL – FOR AND AGAINST
FOR: Plastic-free and au natural baby! The main argument for natural trees is simple – they’re 100% natural, and what could be better than that? Growing trees year round on Christmas tree farms helps clean the air by taking in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, while also releasing oxygen. They provide shelter for local wildlife and have a positive impact on the local economy. Usually, for each tree harvested, up to 10 more are planted.
Bonus!: Fresh and natural fragrance in your home and an ultra-festive look. Fallen pine needles can also be swept up and spread across your garden due to their fertilising properties!
AGAINST: As natural trees are a living, breathing entity, they require a lot more work than plastic trees, both in terms of maintenance and care (for example becoming a fire risk if not properly maintained), as well as the travel involved to purchase one. Not only would you usually have to travel by car to bring a tree home, Christmas trees are often shipped from Scandinavia, with the UK importing up to 3 million trees from Scandinavia each Christmas to sell. Despite being a much more natural process, there are therefore still many emissions caused by purchasing a natural tree.
Natural trees also need to be properly disposed of each year, via composting, council collection/recycling (if offered in your area) or other eco-friendly methods, otherwise this substantially increases their carbon footprint when they break down at landfill.
Finally, natural trees require much more money than their plastic equivalents, which makes them vastly less accessible to the general population.
So as you’ll have probably guessed by this point, there really are some strong arguments both for and against each Christmas tree type. Of course, the real answer is no tree at all – but where’s the fun in that! 😉 If you're seeking a traditional tree, our opinion is that of the two options, natural trees have the best and least impact to the environment due to the fewer emissions caused and resources used to create them, as well as their more natural environmental impact overall.
This opinion is something The Woodland Trust also shares. According to them, a natural Christmas tree sent to landfill produces around 16kg of CO2, whilst a properly disposed of natural tree has a carbon footprint of around 3.5kg. A plastic tree on the other hand clocks in at 40kg - more than 10 times greater than a sustainably disposed of real tree! You would therefore need to use your plastic tree for at least 10 years for its carbon footprint to equal that of a natural tree.
This said, we strongly recognise that natural trees just aren’t a realistic option for many. The answer in this case? Either investing in a good quality plastic tree, and reusing it over the years, or our personal favourite - buying a second-hand plastic tree online and doing the exact same thing. Facebook Marketplace is a fantastic place to find secondhand plastic trees for a low price in your local area – it’s easy and affordable for you, and has almost zero environmental impact in terms of new materials made and emissions caused – ding, ding, ding, we have our winner!
What are your thoughts on the great Christmas tree environmental debate? Let us know in the comments below 😊.