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Are Real Or Plastic Christmas Trees More Eco-Friendly?

By Isabella Bull December 5, 2019

What a tree-bacle.

Every year, millions of Christmas trees around the world are adorned with tinsel, baubles and fairy lights to celebrate the silly season - and around 80 per cent of them are artificial.

As Australia transitions to life without free-plastic-bags, revellers have been asking if artificial Christmas trees still have a place in society - and the answer is complicated.

There are a couple of different factors to consider when choosing between the environmental impact of real or fake Christmas trees… luckily for you, we’ve decided to break it down.

ARTIFICIAL TREES

Artificial Christmas trees are most commonly made of steel and PVC, a non-recyclable plastic. While this makes them highly durable and able to be reused for years, that doesn't necessarily translate to common practice.

Environmentalist Lisa Wriley told the ABC that if the plastic trees are reused consistently, they can have a better environmental benefit than chopping down a real tree every year.

“If you are using an artificial tree, look after it and keep using it as long as you can," she said.

“Anything that is plastic, whether a bag or a Christmas tree - the longer its usable lifespan, the better.”

Naturally (pardon the pun) the indestructible nature of artificial trees means they don’t break down like biodegradable plastics and usually end up in landfill.

Creative recycling can extend the lifespan of artificial Christmas trees to keep them out of landfill. One of my mother’s proudest creations is her handy broom, refashioned from the branches of an old artificial Christmas tree. No, really. 

The majority of the plastic trees that end up in Australia are constructed overseas - meaning the carbon footprint it takes to get them here is a lot higher than for trees grown domestically. 

Artificial trees are also commonly sprayed with flame retardants, which are carcinogenic AKA could cause cancer AKA bad.

On the flip side - plastic trees have the advantage of zero maintenance, don’t attract bugs or spiders (eek) and don’t flare up allergies in the way real trees do.

REAL TREES

It seems kind of obvious to point out that chopping down real trees is bad for the environment, but we’ll say it anyway.

Trees are the lungs of the world and make our air pure by absorbing harmful greenhouse gases. So chopping them down, especially in bulk as Christmas tree plantations do, can be a huge blow to the air quality in certain areas.

However, most Christmas tree farmers replace the trees with new seedlings as soon as they get cut down to mitigate that risk. The trees also provide a habitat for local fauna during their lifespan, which we love.

Natural Christmas trees are, by virtue of being natural, completely biodegradable and compostable. Real trees can be recycled into mulch or fertiliser products after December, and will never take up space in landfill. 

A lot of local councils also run free collection programs for Christmas trees, in the postseason clean up time.

Environmental organisation Planet Ark says choosing a single use real tree is a great option, as long as it is sustainably grown.

“A real tree is a renewable resource when sourced from a sustainably grown plantation and in most cases for every tree that is cut down, one or more will be planted in its place, which helps to sequester carbon.”

In conclusion, there’s really no right or wrong answer. A Christmas tree isn't even limited to these options any more - there are a whole heap of recyclable and beautiful alternatives, from a tree made of books to one made of old tyres.

Make the decision that’s right for you, folks.

Image: Instagram/Blueland, Giphy