This year 450,000 real trees will be sold in Ireland, but there are other options that might be better for the environment. It’s the annual dilemma. Do you buy an artificial tree that will give years of service, or do you stick with a real one that will be discarded on 6 January? This year Irish households are expected to buy as many as 450,000l Christmas trees, but with growing concern about the climate crisis, many consumers are wondering if this is the greenest option.
“Choosing the most sustainable Christmas tree will vary depending on circumstance,” says the Friends of the Earth senior sustainability analyst, Clare Oxborrow. “For those who already own an artificial tree, it’s best to keep on using that over buying a new one. By reusing the same decorations year on year, unnecessary waste can also be kept to a minimum.”
If it is a real tree you want, you should opt for one grown nearby. “Buy a tree from a local grower who has actually grown it on their property,” suggests the BCTGA chairman, Hans Alexandersen. “If they’re grown in some faraway place and are being transported from A to B, you’re putting a lot of mileage on that tree.”
In recent years the supply of domestically grown Christmas trees has increased, making it easier to avoid imports. The most popular choice is the Nordmann fir, which is much admired for its thick, bushy branches and soft needles that are slower to drop than a traditional Norway spruce.
Renting a tree has become a popular alternative for people who care about their environmental impact but prefer to have a real one at home. Once returned to the vendor after the festive period, trees are replanted so that they can be rented out again next year.
While rental services can be marginally cheaper than buying a tree outright, Alexandersen is sceptical of a model that sees them clock up extra miles on the road or perish anyway if they are not cared for properly. If a tree is going to be planted outside afterwards it needs to be kept away from heat sources and stay indoors for no longer than a fortnight.
How you dispose of a real tree is actually more significant than where it comes from or how you got it home. If it ends up in landfill the impact on the environment is much worse because of the methane released during decomposition. Most local authorities now offer a collection service for real trees which they shred and use on gardens and parks. If that is not an option some companies will come to your house and grind it into mulch for you.