Fir, Faux or Forget? The Green Christmas Tree Dilemma

5 mins

With ginger lattes being served in festive cups, twinkling decorations adorning malls and the sound of Last Christmas by Wham! beginning to blast out from sound systems, we decided to take a look at the most ethical ways of getting a Christmas tree this year. By Anthea Ayache

We’re fast approaching that time of year when conversations inevitably turn to the ‘Christmas tree’, and centre around whether we should or should not buy a real one. Do we drag the fake tree from out under the bed, go to our local nursery to pick up a sustainably-sourced real one, or ditch the whole tradition altogether and simply get creative?

If you have found yourself in a conundrum this year and the ‘forget (buying a tree altogether)’ option isn’t on the menu (think kids with pleading eyes), then you’ll find your options could be somewhat limited when it comes to saving money and the planet with a spruced-up spruce. Do you go real, fake or are there any other options for a guilt-free Christmas out there?

We did some, er, digging to find out the eco-friendliest firs for you this festive season.

Fir: Buy a real one

There is something magical about a real tree. The beautiful aroma of freshly cut, fragrant fir; the needles that tumble through the night landing gently on top of gifts. It’s reminiscent of childhood and all that a traditional Christmas represents.

The reality, however, is not so magical. If you have notions that trees are removed from abundant forests on snow caped mountains where the air is fresh and the birds sing from branch to bough, you’re slightly off the mark. Most trees available in garden centres around the world are intensively farmed solely for harvesting purposes, and, as such, are treated as any other monocrop would be: sprayed with fertilisers and pesticides.

Christmas tree farm in Iowa. Image: iStock

However, it’s not all ‘Bah Humbug’. Crop plantations for Christmas trees – when sustainably managed over a nine-year harvest – can be decent habitats for wildlife. On top of that, eco options are becoming more readily available in most countries, where you can buy locally grown or even potted trees, that allow you to grow them throughout the year ready for the next. If you live outside of the UAE, you can get in touch with your local soil and forest associations to find organic and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-approved Christmas tree retailers. Those certifications will ensure your tree has been grown and felled sustainably. Unfortunately in the UAE there are, as yet, no options for certified trees but retailers say this is something they are looking into.

Faux: Buy a fake one

Plastic trees are often labelled the ‘eco-friendly’ option as they are reusable but what most people don’t know is artificial trees have a higher negative impact, requiring more energy and causing more pollution than real trees. According to the UK’s Woodland Trust, it’s been estimated that you would need to use a PVC tree for at least 20 years to make up for the amount of energy used in its production.

‘It’s been estimated that you would need to use a PVC tree for at least 20 years to make up for the amount of energy used in its production’

The argument for fake trees is that they can be used year after year. However, the tree is likely not ‘for life’ –they are often used for a few years in a row before being discarded to spend their next Christmas in landfill, as owners opt for the real thing or a bigger, and better, plastic version.

Christmas tree

Artificial Christmas trees are not the ‘eco’ option. Image: iStock

Most fake trees on the market are also made from PVC – polyvinyl chloride derived from petroleum – which release gases that experts speculate can irritate the eyes, nose, and lungs. If you want to avoid any nasty side-effects, take the tree from the box and leave it outside for a day. PVC releases its most harmful gases when it is first exposed to air. Or, try and find trees made from polyethylene, plastic generally considered safer and not known to leach harmful chemicals

But really, in an era where we should be weaning ourselves off toxic plastic that is littering our planet and oceans, is it justifiable to buy a whole six foot of the stuff? Not to mention the fact it’s likely made in a factory on the other side of the world (with cheap labour) and has to rack up a hefty carbon footprint to adorn your festive front room.  Oh, and  you can’t recycle it either. Bah humbug indeed.

Forget: Forgo the tree altogether?

How about going completely off the holiday grid and foregoing the whole Christmas tree tradition altogether? If you really want to have a green Christmas, you can easily decorate your home with branches, adorn larger house plants or even build a ‘fake’ tree from repurposed materials like books or wood pallets.

‘The best thing anyone can do is make their own tree,’ says Dubai based landscape architect Kamelia Zaal – founder of Landscape Design Studio. ‘I’m making an alternative tree this year because you just don’t need a real Christmas tree anymore, people can get really creative. If you look on inspiration sites such as Pinterest you can find so many great ideas instead.’

Christmas tree

Get creative and make your own decorations. Image: iStock

You could also go one step further and make your own environmentally-friendly decorations. The kids can get very involved with making them and they’ll love seeing them used around the house.

If you have a bag of baubles and decorations that get hauled out from the attic every year, it won’t be much of a problem as you get lots of use out of them. However, if you prefer to have new decorations each year, you might like to think about cardboard and paper decorations, as these are much easier to recycle and not so harmful to the environment.

Last but so not very least, instead of cutting down a tree, why don’t you plant one this year? There are worldwide organisations that plant trees as Christmas gifts for a small sum. See the UK’s WoodlandTrust.org or Forestnation.com.

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