It’s a dilemma that many eco-conscious people around the world contemplate each Christmas. What’s best? A traditional Christmas tree? Or an artificial tree that you can use for years and years? There will be several factors coming into play, because a Christmas tree that looks good is going to be a key consideration. For people with green principles, an eco-friendly Ch ristmas is going to be high on the list, alongside visual appeal.

Both types of Christmas tree have pros and cons. A real tree doesn’t use non-renewable resources, but it’s always sad to think of millions of trees being chopped down each year, and consigned to the trash after a couple of weeks. An artificial tree does use non-renewable materials, and manufacturing is never clean, but it’s a one-off. It doesn’t have to be grown in monoculture plantations that might better be used for food production, and it could last for a decade or more.

It’s not quite a 50:50 scenario though. Real trees aren’t without problems, but they are carbon neutral. Artificial trees aren’t. As well as using plastics, they typically contain metal elements, and they often don’t last as long as we might think. Plastics decay and so your artificial tree may not last as long as you hope. Also, you might not want these materials (including PVCs) in your green home at all, when eco-friendly Christmas accessories exist. When you tire of your artificial tree, it’s not biodegradable. It will take many years to decay and isn’t easily recycled.

If the culture and felling of millions of real trees bothers you, there are alternatives to consider. A small coniferous tree in a pot can also last for years, as well as adding greenery to your garden. Of course it will grow. The species most often used (Fraser firs and Korean firs) will eventually grow to twenty or thirty feet in 20 years if planted in the ground outside. By growing them in a container you can limit this growth (a bit like bonsai trees).

A real tree has one disadvantage, namely that it won’t thrive in a warm interior for very long, with 12 days a rough maximum. (On the other hand, you may feel that Christmas goes on for long enough already.) It will need some care through the year to maintain healthiness and shape. And, of course, not all of us have a garden to put it in for the rest of the year – though you could always give it away to someone who does.

If you do opt for a cut real tree, then it does have the bonus of being 100% recyclable. Another option is to ditch the traditional Christmas tree altogether. Attractive twigs and branches decked with low energy, LED Christmas lights can be a stylish alternative. One thing seems fairly certain: If you aim for green holidays, a artifical tree is almost certainly never going to be the most eco-friendly option.

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