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WILD Christmas: Sustainable Christmas Trees

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Anne-Sophie begins our Christmas content in her discussion surrounding Christmas trees. What kind of tree is the best for the environment? Or perhaps it’s best to have no tree at all and use our own creativity to come up with sustainable alternatives to the wasteful Christmas tree this year.

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Do we really need Christmas trees?

The nights are getting longer, the smell of mulled wine is in the air, the Christmas songs in our ears and the holiday spirit all around. As we are starting to plan the special day, I found it a good opportunity to adapt traditions to the current times. After convincing my family, with great efforts, to have a vegetarian dinner last year, it is time to try and find what would be the most sustainable Christmas tree option. Is it better to go for a real tree, a plastic one or dare I say, no tree at all?

The Christmas Tree Tradition

The tradition of Christmas tree as we know it in Europe dates back to 16th  century Germany, when Christians first decorated evergreen trees inside. However, the celebration of the solstice with evergreens, to symbolise everlasting life, dates much further back as  similar practices were followed in ancient Egypt, Roman or even Viking culture.

The Christmas tree has come in many shape and sizes, sometimes being a decorated palm tree, a fresh good smelling pine tree or in recent years a plastic tree you bring out every year. It remains in many cases an indispensable part of the winter holidays.

How to Choose Your Christmas Tree


In the UK, plastic Christmas trees are now outselling the traditional fresh tree. Afterall, today we can find plastic trees which look very realistic and will be “Christmas ready” for years.  Having a plastic tree shortens the long list of things to do around the busy holidays season, you simply get it out of storage. However, if you were thinking of getting a plastic tree, maybe rethink your options.  A 6.5ft fake tree emits more than twice as much greenhouse emissions than a fresh tree that would end its life in a landfill. Although you would reuse a plastic tree over and over again, it still contributes to oil use and carbon emissions which cause known negative environment impacts. They are also often produced in China boosting their carbon footprint as they are packaged and shipped around the world. Also, artificial trees are not made with their disposal in mind and are often burned or put in landfill which further contributes to negative environmental impacts. If you already own an artificial tree, use it as much as possible and for as long as you can (at least nine years to break even) so the environmental cost is dilluted a little over time.

Fresh tree

Fresh trees offer a closer rendition for the celebration of nature’s everlasting life than an artificial plastic Christmas tree. Not only does the smell take us back to our childhood, the experience of picking your tree with family or friends when Christmas draws closer is to many an entire part of getting in the holiday spirit. If having a real tree is simply not negotiable to you, here are a few tips to source and dispose of your tree in a more sustainable way.

1. You make sure it was grown locally to avoid emissions from transporting or importing. Look for a UK grown tree which has the FSC certification.

2. Before you think about getting rid of your tree, reuse it. If you feel like experimenting, think long-term and try keeping getting a tree with roots in pot so you can keep it for the next year or plant it in your garden. You won’t only save money, you will contribute to carbon sequestration too!

3. When there is no other option, recycle your tree. Dead wood can still be useful, whether used to decorate, heat your house or by becoming compost. Check with your local authorities as many collect your trees for you, shredding them into chippings to use locally in parks or woodland areas.

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Create a unique Christmas tree this year

Be creative

Try and be creative by making Christmas trees out of wooden logs for example. Traditions keep evolving and creating new ones can be a great Christmas activity and bring people together. You could stack wood you would use to make fire in a pyramid shape and cover it with fairy lights. Maybe collect pine cones and arrange them to look like a tree. You can reuse them every year or design new ones to fit your needs. The sky is the limit to what you can come up with. Have fun with it!

Which ever option you go for, there are always choices you can make to enjoy a more sustainable Christmas. The winter holidays are a time to recharge your batteries for the cold months ahead. Sustainability is crucial but so is your wellbeing, try to think outside the box as some options can help foster both. Personally, I will try to be creative, what about you?

About the Author: Anne-Sophie is a Swiss-French 3rd year university student in Human Geography and Environment at the University of York. She is passionate about sustainability and the opportunities raising from its challenges. She follows that passion wherever it leads her. You can find her Instagram @thehungrytravellingsisters. 

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