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Low carbon Christmas trees (Updated)

Our Sustainability Consultant Karolina Rucinska, explores how you can reduce the Carbon cost of your Christmas tree.

As we approach the festive season, more of us than ever are looking at how we can make the most ethical and environmentally friendly choices to ensure a low-carbon Christmas. From choosing a real tree grown with care, to reusing decorations and choosing LEDS lighting, the good news is there are many fun and affordable changes you can make without compromise.

In this updated guide for 2022, we explore the sustainable and ethical choices in selecting and decorating your Christmas tree.

The tree

Is a real tree better than an artificial tree for the environment? According to Carbon Trust, that depends on the specific tree and the plans for reuse and disposal.

The Carbon Trust estimates an artificial tree has a carbon footprint around 40kg, compared to 16kg for a 2-metre real tree with no roots (if both end up in a landfill). You would need to use an artificial tree at least 10 times to negate its carbon footprint.

Most artificial trees are made in China, with the dual environmental impact of being made from plastic, PVC and metal, and then shipped overseas.

Soil Association

Most Christmas trees are grown as a horticultural crop, often using pesticides as well as potentially taking away precious land that can be used for creating carbon sinks, in other words, real forests for people and wildlife. Importing live plants can also introduce live pests and diseases which can have a devastating effect on our farms and woodland.

If you’re looking for a sustainable Christmas Tree, The Soil Association recommend choosing a tree that has been responsibly managed and grown using a minimal amount of pesticides. This includes selecting trees that are FSC certified, organic and grown locally – which in turn reduces the miles travelled as well as supporting the local economy.

So, the emissions to avoid after Christmas aren’t the ones produced by eating too many sprouts. The real issue is to do with the disposal of the trees – real or artificial.  If both trees end up in landfill – the artificial tree might take hundreds of years to decompose, whilst the real tree will emit methane – a very potent greenhouse gas.

If you want to avoid these trees going to landfill, you can reuse the artificial tree and pass it on to your family (think of it as an heirloom tree – a forever tree that can be passed down through the generations). Whereas a real tree can be chopped and turned into wood chips that can later be used for mulching – reducing it’s emissions by up to 80%.

The best thing you can do to keep your Carbon emissions down is to plant a tree in a pot, watch it grow, bring it indoors for Christmas and take it outdoors until the next year. Or, adorn your existing plants at home with festive LED lights.

The lights

With a huge increase in energy prices this year, you may be wondering whether to switch off your Christmas lights this year. According to Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis:

“As long as you’ve got LED lights, a string of 100, which is a pretty decent amount, if you were to have them on for six hours a day for the month, it would cost you around 18 pence,”

Based on using LED lights

So, if you want to be environmentally friendly this season, use what you have at home and garden already, have a friendly chat with small scale suppliers as to how they manage their land to learn about the process of growing trees, and focus on planting trees or shrubs at the right time and at the right place in your community.

And finally, the most sustainable festive decorations are the ones you already have.

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