Carbon footprints are complicated. This weekend millions will go shopping for a Christmas tree. For those with an eco-conscience the decision is even more difficult. Surely we all want to shun a plastic tree shipped from America or China in preference for a scots pine? But ‘plastic bad, fir good’ is too simplistic.
The Carbon Trust has the figures. A 6ft 5in tree grown in the UK – with its fertiliser, tractors, plastic netting, chainsaw and transport generates about 5Kg of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent); the equivalent of driving 22 miles in an average petrol car. Then there is the consideration for picking it up (or delivery) and its disposal transport-miles to add, plus too, as it decomposes, it releases methane gas, “which is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide”.
A fake tree the same size with its shipping from the US or Far East, transport to a retailer, its metal and plastic, causes 40Kg of CO2e. But then if you factor in lifetime cost, it gets more complicated because the average use of a fake tree is 10 years, so 40Kg CO2e becomes 4Kg a year, rather than the 5Kg a year of the fir tree plus its disposal costs. Our plastic tree is still going after 36 years!
Recyclable cardboard trees are easy to find online but if you want a luxury option, for £85 – £395 (depending on size) you can have a 2 – 6ft coppiced hazel wooden tree you construct yourself which is posted to you in the UK free. Reusable every year it is using wood cut as part of traditional woodland management.
Hiring a real tree however, is so much more sustainable. For £50 upwards depending on size, you can rent a tree and give it back afterwards to continue to grow until you’d like it, or a same size tree, back the following year (assuming it grows and survives the year). Postage is extra and it is difficult to find this being offered outside London or Leicestershire. The only eco-things to worry about are the transport-miles and whether your tree will survive. We need more, local tree-hire options around the UK.
Selecting the right tree for your home is highly personal but you can do your bit by planning ahead, buying local and reusing where possible. Last year we were lucky to be able to use a tree we had grown from a sapling in the garden. if you go for a cut tree, please shop as local as you can or have it delivered rather than make a special trip and look for the British Christmas Tree Growers Association or Forest Stewardship Council symbols as certification of eco-friendly growing methods. Remember too that unwanted gifts, food waste and the decisions you make on what you eat at Christmas can be even more detrimental to the Planet than the type of Christmas tree you have.