christmas trees real or fake ?

I have a slight dilema this week as a relative brought round a fake christmas tree, that they no longer want. It is in perfect condition but it causes the eco warrior in me to take stock of the situation. Normally we choose to have a real tree, that we source from local growers. You could say that the sacrifice that the tree makes, for years of growing to then be cut down to spend a few weeks in the corner of the room, means that I should go for a fake tree that may last for many many years, leaving the living thing in the ground. However you would be wrong.

If a tree is sourced with care then you can find yourself purchasing from a local suppiler, which means the embodied energy in producing that tree is virtually zero. I knew a game keeper who reared pheasants for shooting, he had a patch of land where he grew various types of Christmas tree, it provided him with a bonus at Christmas and the rest of the year it was cover for the young pheasants. A duel purpose crop which also was a much needed break in the hedgeless expanses of the Lincolnshire agricultural landscape. Without this regular coppicing this small area of trees would soon turn into an overgrown copse which would not cater for the same variety of animals, or would end up being turned back into farm land.

On the other hand buying a live tree each year is a wasteful tradition that contributes needlessly to deforestation. A plastic tree will last for years. A fake plastic tree however comes from half way round the world not to mention the petrolium based materials that go into making it. Also as fashions change and things break these things find there way to the landfill site, you can stick one on the compost heap but you may be waiting a while. Thinking that buying a fake tree will stop the trees being cut down is a false hope, if there was no call for them you may see a whole plantation cut down in favour of a more lucrative crop.

However this does not solve my present problem of what to do with this fake tree I was given. I could put it on freecycle then go out and buy another, but would that be against my principles? I have this thing in my possession, should I make use of it in favour of what I want?


5 thoughts on “christmas trees real or fake ?

  1. Alyx says:

    I’ve just come accross this which may help? ? ….

    Among the materials commonly used in the manufacture of artificial trees are PVC, polyurethane foam and steel. Although you may reuse it for several years, if your tree is not recyclable the chances are it will eventually linger for centuries in a land-fill site.

    An advantage of a real tree is that, while growing it absorbs the greenhouse gas CO2. However, growers can use chemical fertilisers and pesticides to control things such as aphids and rust mites- Unless you say it is bought from a local / organic supplier?

    Choose a live one
    An increasing number of suppliers provide trees with their roots intact. These are either grown in a plantation then transferred to a pot, or grown from seed in a container. If you’re looking for a tree that can be put outside and re-used next year, go for the latter as it will have a better chance of survival. Keep the tree in a cool place once indoors, water it well and acclimatise it gradually when you return it outdoors.
    If you plan to plant your tree in the ground, choose a species suited to the growing conditions you have. A Norway spruce picea abies can grow to 30 metres, so only opt for this variety if you have a large garden. The more modest 12-metre Korean fir abies koreana is a better bet for smaller plots.
    Several companies supply seeds or seedlings for growing your own tree. Tree2mydoor sells baby Christmas trees on its website, while Ecotopia offers Christmas tree seed kits. The gardening section of the BBC website has advice on how to give your young tree the best possible start in life.
    OK – So not exactly an answer to your dilemma but it may give you some more ideas…?
    Dispose of carefully
    If you do need to dispose of a real tree after Christmas, be sure to recycle it. According to the charity Action for Sustainable Living, over 6m Christmas trees were bought in the UK last year but only 750,000 of those – just 12.5% – were recycled. The remainder created 9,000 tonnes of unnecessary waste, equal to five times the weight of the London Eye. Most councils now gather Christmas trees, chip them and turn them into mulch for use in local parks. You can find out where your nearest facilities are by entering your postcode at
    Be tree-free
    As an alternative to buying a tree, why not use the money to help conserve the world’s forests. By making a donation to the Woodland Trust, you can help preserve ancient habitats such as Lincolnshire’s Limewoods. Further afield, Rainforest Concern works in countries including Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica and Sri Lanka to protect rainforest ecosystems and the indigenous people that rely on them. You can contribute to its work by sponsoring an acre of forest at a cost of £25 – roughly the same price as a five-foot Norway Spruce. – Although I reckon with kids, this idea is probably not that feasible?!

    Anyway- just found this and thought it might come in handy? Although – It’s a fairly tough decision because if you’ve already got the plastic tree then why go out and get a real one? However from a purely selfish reason I would go with a real one for the whole xmas feel (especially if you can source from a local / sustainable supplier like you say) Hmm… I don’t know – tough one. Have I just confused things??!! Anyway -keep us posted.

  2. Alyx says:

    Got this from the guardian and thought it might provide small useful tips to someone etc etc…

    Christmas cards
    Yes, yes, you don’t send any already – hooray, there’s finally an excuse. But for those who do, one option is to send virtual cards. E-cards are currently the refuge of those who weren’t organised enough to commemorate Christmas, a birthday or their own wedding anniversary in time, but with a joke or two, and a little note to say why you’re doing it, you should be able to get away with it. Friends of the Earth notes that in 2004 we sent around 744 million Christmas cards. If all these were recycled instead of thrown away, it would save the equivalent of 248,000 trees, not to mention all that postage. Many charity stores sell gummed labels to stick over previous missives and addresses. “Last year,” says the Green Guide, “82 million cards were collected and recycled. That amounts to 1,630 tonnes of rubbish diverted from landfill.”

    Christmas trees

    More than seven million Christmas trees are grown and sold in the UK each year, most ending up as landfill. In 2001, according to Defra, 7.5 million Christmas trees were bought and only 1.2 million were recycled. The other 6 million or so created enough waste to fill the Albert Hall three times over. The obvious answer is not to have one. But if that’s too bah humbug, too depressing, make your own. Vicki Hird, senior food campaigner at Friends of the Earth, cuts one out of cardboard and gets her children to paint it green. She concedes that that’s not for everyone, “but it’s quite fun for the children”.

    I once spent an interesting afternoon helping a friend spray-paint fallen branches from the local park silver. It’s not a tree-option I’m going to repeat in a hurry, so for those like me, who love the smell of pine needles, here are a couple of solutions: buy British – so they don’t have so far to go; or get a tree with roots still on, and plant it in your garden after Epiphany. And if you don’t have a garden – recycle. Most councils will compost or shred trees. And if they don’t, they should.Christmas dinner

    The centre of festivities, apart from the presents of course. Oh, and God, glad tidings and goodwill to all men. According to the Environment Agency, a typical Christmas dinner made from imported ingredients travels more than 24,000 miles – that’s once round the globe. A similar dinner made from UK farmers market produce travels 376 miles. So find a local turkey farmer, or at least buy free-range, and use local instead of imported berries for pudding. Treat it as a challenge, says Hird. “You can discover new shops, new markets, even get people at dinner to guess where it all came from.” Moreover, the Green Guide reminds us that “over 24 million glass jars of mincemeat, pickles and cranberry sauce will be consumed over the festive period and if these jars were recycled, it would save enough energy to boil water for 60 million cups of tea.”


    Eschew those twinkly batons of coloured paper you’ve tripped over 20 times already in the aisles of Boots or Woolworths. This Christmas, more than 8,000 tonnes of the stuff will be used, the equivalent of 50,000 trees. In fact, we use enough, estimates Defra, to gift-wrap the island of Guernsey. Defra also estimates that last year 83 sq km of wrapping paper ended up in UK rubbish bins. Wrap those ethically thoughtful presents in old newspaper and string. You can, I promise, make that look knowing and fun. Or use brown paper (undyed with toxins) and alternate these more downbeat colours with sparkly tin foil as wrapping paper, which, when everything has been unwrapped, can be used in the kitchen.

    Tree decorations

    You may, year after year, be using family heirlooms of blown glass and gold, but for those who aren’t and plan to refresh their stock this season, stop and think a minute. Many are made out of non-biodegradable substances, often in distant countries with questionable working practices. Look for baubles made of natural substances, and if possible under fair trade. Recycle old and tatty decorations, or make edible ones – strings of cranberries and popcorn, decorated biscuits in fun shapes (children’s cookbooks are a good source for this, notes Hird). Then you can eat them or put them out for the squirrels and birds.

    “When I was a kid we made paper chains,” says Gavin Markham, who edits the Green Guide. “Nowadays you go out to the nearest Woolies, buy the cheapest tat there is, then throw it away. Kids like making stuff, getting involved. It’s getting back to what Christmas should be about.” Use that foil again – attached to cardboard backing, it can make very presentable stars. It is even possible, for those with Martha Stewart tendencies, to make your own Christmas crackers.


    Christmas may not be as cold as it used to be, but, says Markham, “it’s meant to be cold”. Try not to use quite so much central heating. Put a nice, Christmassy woolly jumper on (think Mark Darcy) and turn the heating down a notch. Use slightly fewer fairy lights, and try not to leave them on all day. Don’t leave mobile phone chargers plugged in all the time (they lose 90% of their energy when not plugged into a phone, apparently), or TVs on. “Get people into the habit of thinking greener at Christmas and maybe they’ll extend it through the year,” says Markham.


    A vast and rich source of greenery. When Markham began editing the Green Guide, he found it difficult to find ecologically sound gifts; now we’re drowning in things that are good, beautiful and fun. I won’t rehearse all the many, many possibilities but they include everything from giving a goat to organic underwear to recycled glass objects. According to the Green Guide, “gifts such as DVD players and coffee-makers generated 780,000 tonnes of greenhouse pollution last year, even before they were unwrapped and used. A third was due to fuel consumption during production.” Give antiques or experiences instead, suggest Friends of the Earth – opera tickets, spa weekends, membership of a gallery, which has the added bonus of cutting down on waste. The Institute of Environmental Assessment and Management predicts that this Christmas will create three million extra tonnes of rubbish, enough to fill 400,000 double-decker buses, of which we will recycle just 12%.

    Consume less

    And finally, consider not giving much at all. If all the world consumed as much as the west did, we’d need three planets to live on; as it is, the developing world will soon – indeed, already is – picking up the tab for our profligacy. “We feel compelled to go out and buy and buy, spend and spend and give and give,” says Markham – but is it absolutely necessary? Christmas is a period of sanctioned excess, but does it have to be? Would it not be less stressful if – taking, God forbid, the lead from Chelsea’s footballers – we put a low cap on what we spent per person, and within that tried to be as ethical and inventive as we could be? We could spend more time on what matters – friends and family – and give a gift to our planet at the same time. “It doesn’t mean you have to have less fun,” says Markham, “just be pickier. And that might be the greenest thing you can do

  3. dibnah says:

    thanks for these they are very useful

  4. Angie Garren says:

    It’s almost that time again, so this was an interesting read. What did you decide to do with the artificial tree? I’m new to this, but my thought would be that finding someone who would use it would be a good way to “recycle” it, since the materials and energy had already gone into producing it.

  5. Miriam Newton says:

    I know I’m late in jumping into this but it is New Year’s Eve and while researching a life of even more simplicity in the new year, I happened upon your site. It is ironic that one of this mornings internet headlines here in the US is about trees being stolen and shipped overseas. Apparently, our global market for shipping our trees out of America just keeps getting bigger. The trees are probably being cut down by illegal immigrants and the fat cats keep getting fatter. So while a high percentage of us are recycling our paper products and consuming responsibly, all we have managed to do is save trees for the corporate gluttons of the world to sell to China who is quickly becoming one of the biggest consuming countries in the world, second only to the US. Seems hopeless.

    By the way, does anyone have an opinion on the “voluntary simplicity” lifestyle. Have you noticed that they don’t do this until they have made a fortune/or are finally making a fortune working for themselves out of their homes, writing or whatever. Have they become nothing more than hoarders? Very few are contributing to charities or volunteering their time to those less privileged or fortunate or to the health of the planet. They seem to disdain frugality out of necessity. Am I being unfair by seeing this as just another form of arrogant meism.

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