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Christmas trees: Are artificial or real ones more environmentally friendly?

Having a fake Christmas tree could be better for the environment – as long as it’s used for at least seven years, according to the Carbon Trust.

Data from the organisation shows that a 6.5ft (1.9m) artificial tree equates to around 40kg (88lbs) of greenhouse gas emissions when considering manufacturing, metal, plastic, packaging and transport.

Although the carbon footprint of a real fertilised tree is around a tenth of that, there is a point when artificial trees can have a lower overall carbon footprint.

Carbon Trust consultant Tiphaine Aries says: “There’s never really a black and white answer as to what is the right or wrong choice.

“It depends on the size of the tree you are buying, but usually as a rule of thumb, between seven and 20 years, you can know you would have a lower carbon emissions. You then start to spread that footprint enough so that it would be lower than a real tree.”

However, Ms Aries said that real Christmas trees can also have positive environmental impacts.

“If your tree at the end of life is collected by a local authority and then burnt for energy or used as wood-chipping or composting, those have really positive benefits as well, in the composting or chipping examples it helps with soil quality improvements and that’s really important.”

Should you rent a Christmas tree?

The data comes as one company has begun offering a service to rent a real Christmas tree.

Eco Elf in Hampshire has this year begun delivering pot-grown trees in December which are then picked up and replanted in January.

Callum O’Driscoll, who came up with the idea, said: “I was just fed up of throwing away Christmas trees. Me and my wife, we’ve always loved getting a real tree, even from when I was a little child, it smells great.

“But taking it down to the council tip in the car park around the corner and seeing a massive pile of cut trees was a bit of a shame really. I’ve got a bit of background in innovation and environmental technology so I thought, let’s make use of it.”

He explained the challenge in keeping trees alive year on year that are kept in heated houses throughout December:

“These trees are grown specifically for this – they are pot grown trees rather than potted.

“Traditionally Christmas trees that are potted are dug up, the roots put into a pot, and have less chance of survival. These start from a seedling in a pot and stay in a pot forever. When it goes back in the ground it will stay in that pot.”

One of Eco-Elf’s customers, Melanie Lovell, from Lyndhurst in Hampshire, told Sky News why she decided to rent a tree this year:

“We saw it on Facebook and we thought what a great idea. We always buy a real tree and then we have to take it to the dump.

“I’ll see the same tree year on year and watch it grow. It’s just part of the family and has some meaning. And environmentally [it is] friendly as we’re not throwing anything away.”

Real or fake – it remains a divisive issue for those tree shopping at Manor Garden Centre in Wiltshire: “It’s nice to have real tree – it seems a bit lazy to have an artificial one…you can just put it in the attic!”

Moria, who has had her artificial tree for decades, disagrees.

“It’s about 30 to 35 years old. We get it out of the loft, it’s a little bit motheaten. It still has needles and the fairy on the top.

“We were going to get rid of it but we’re not now… there’s nothing wrong with it but why spend money on a real one when they’re so expensive these days?”



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