While trees are generally great news for the environment, Christmas trees can be problematic. From the methods used to grow them to the plastic we hang from their boughs, Christmas trees are often profoundly unsustainable. Luckily, there are easy ways to ensure that your Christmas tree is not only full of festive cheer but also better for the planet than the average tree. Here’s our brief guide to sustainable Christmas trees:
- Re-use. Buying a brand new plastic tree is not the best thing you can do for the environment. But, if you already have an artificial tree, re-using it for years to come is actually better for the environment than driving out to get a new real tree every year. Re-use your own artificial tree, or find a pre-loved artificial tree in a charity shop and give it a new lease of life.
- Rent. Rent-a-tree schemes are becoming more and more common. They’re pretty simple: what you get is a live tree (roots and all!) in a pot. As long as you keep the tree watered and alive, you can return it at the end of the Christmas period, to be replanted and dug up again for another family another year. Pine trees are quite hardy, so they usually take to being dug up, decorated, and replanted pretty well.
- Remain local. Whatever you choose, try and remain as local as possible. Small, local tree operations will not only save you making a long, carbon-heavy journey, but they’re also likely to be more environmentally friendly in general than large agribusinesses.
- Forage. Things like pine cones and even twigs can be turned into lovely tree decorations which - unlike much of the stuff you can buy in shops - will ultimately biodegrade. Just don’t pick anything that’s still growing, and don’t totally denude the forest floor.
- Fold. Origami and other crafts are simple and effective ways of decorating your tree and having some great family time in the process. Some of your efforts may be a bit touch and go, but that’s all part of the fun!
- Find. Charity shops and second-hand selling sites are always full of Christmas decorations at this time of year. Revamping and re-using pre-loved decorations is much better than letting them go to landfill, and much, much better than buying brand new ones.
- Compost. If you had a real tree, it will biodegrade over time. Chopping it up or putting it through a woodchipper will speed this process up. Some garden centres will take in old (real!) Christmas trees in order to chip them and use them in mulches and their own compost. Check with garden centres in your area to see if they’re offering this service this year.
- Charity. You’d be amazed how many charities and community projects may be interested in your (real) Christmas tree. Some conservation projects can use old Christmas trees to provide valuable structure to things like sand dunes. Some wildlife parks use old Christmas trees as enrichment items for their animals. Ask around and find out who can make use of your old trees.
- Back in the attic! As we mentioned earlier, if you have an artificial tree, the most sustainable thing you can do is to pack it away safely for use again next year. If you’re the kind who itches for a fresh new tree each year, but you already have an artificial one, try leaving an incentive for yourself with the tree. Perhaps put a £10 note in the box to find next December (or maybe a bottle of something delicious…)