Fake or fir? Your Christmas tree's carbon footprint

If you have a Christmas tree in your home, have you thought whether it's better to have a natural tree or an artificial tree? This video could help you to decide.

Do the preparation task first. Then watch the video and do the exercises. Remember you can read the transcript at any time.


It's the ultimate Christmas decoration and British people buy millions of them every year. But what impact does the Christmas tree have on the environment and should you go fake or fir? We're putting the Christmas tree to the test.

First up, the natural tree. Around seven million Christmas trees are bought in the UK each year, with roughly three-quarters being grown here. It takes up to 12 years to grow a typical Christmas tree. During this time it has a positive impact on the environment because it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere and nitrogen from the soil. But once the tree is chopped down, it slowly starts releasing emissions back into the atmosphere. Transporting a tree can contribute to its overall carbon footprint, so buying a tree that's locally grown can help keep its carbon footprint down. But the biggest potential environmental impact for a natural Christmas tree comes from its disposal. If your tree ends up in landfill, its carbon footprint will be a lot higher. That's because organic matter which decomposes away from oxygen produces methane, a greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. It's much better if your tree gets incinerated – burnt – or composted. That can reduce its carbon footprint by up to 80 per cent compared with landfill. You can find out from your local council what happens to your Christmas tree once you throw it out and, of course, if you have the space, you can buy a potted Christmas tree, which you can keep over the next year and use again next Christmas.

So what about a plastic Christmas tree? Here, the biggest impact on the environment comes from production. Artificial trees are usually made out of a combination of metal and plastic, the production and processing of which can significantly increase the tree's carbon footprint. And most artificial trees are made in China, which means they have to be packaged and shipped to the UK. The good news is that you can reuse a plastic tree. So how many years would you have to keep it so that it has a lower environmental impact than buying a natural tree? Experts think it's about ten years, but that's a rough estimate that depends on a number of different factors such as the size of the tree. If you do decide to throw out your plastic tree, it's most likely to end up in landfill, as it's not currently recyclable. 

Overall, your choice of Christmas tree has a relatively small impact on your annual carbon footprint. To give you a better idea, driving 12 miles in an average-size petrol car produces as much greenhouse gas emissions as buying a natural tree. Or 54 miles if that tree ends up in landfill. If you get an artificial tree, that's roughly equivalent to driving 135 miles. 

Of course, there are other factors you might want to consider when you buy a Christmas tree. But in terms of environmental impact, reuse for artificial trees and disposal for natural trees are just two factors you might want to keep in mind.



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Submitted by musashow17 on Wed, 19/01/2022 - 21:54


Generally I dont celebrate Christmas but when I celebrate it prefer to buy a small plant due to my small house. I don't have enough space to buy a tree. Also I don't like artificial tree. So that from my point of view the best thing is neither buy an articial tree nor natural tree. The best one is buy one seed and grow it.

Submitted by celitoga on Tue, 18/01/2022 - 06:20


I don't usually put any Christmas decoration in my house, but when I was a child, my parents used to have a plastic tree and I think it lasted almost about 15 or 20 years. After see this video, I feel happy for all the time my parents kept that plastic tree.

Submitted by PhongCao on Thu, 23/12/2021 - 09:06


I had never been buying an artificial tree because I am referring to natural trees, other while you could decorate some LEDs around them so it will make your Christmas more brighten. if I've got to buy a Christmas tree, I am rather going to buy another kind of it such as a peach tree.

Submitted by Geoda2008 on Fri, 10/12/2021 - 10:16


I have an artificial Christmas tree, I bought while I was living in Asia where is hard to find natural Christmas tree on sale. I didn't know the impact that produces. Luckily, I have it for almost 10 years!. After listening this video I'm definitely keeping it for longer. :)

Submitted by satomi on Fri, 10/12/2021 - 04:52


Unfortunately, it's difficult to find a place to get a natural Christmas tree here. So I have an artificial Christmas tree in my house despite I don't like the smell of it. It smells exactly plastic and I'm afraid it would cause something bad to our health.

Submitted by danny0509 on Sat, 04/12/2021 - 02:01


after i listen and read this article, i am thinking to buy a natural tree this year, and i get it in a near farm, it will produce less emissions, also i am goint go get a pot tree, so that i can use it the next year. i think a natural tree is more nice, it smell to forest, to nature, and i really like that.

Submitted by jorgejceleiro on Sun, 24/01/2021 - 19:43

I have used an artificial Christmats tree for thre years.

Submitted by anugmo on Thu, 24/12/2020 - 09:16

sorry, my name is Andrés Ugarte.

Submitted by anugmo on Thu, 24/12/2020 - 03:09

In my house use a very little artificial christmas tree, because is a good practice for the environment and the tree is little because the celebration I spend with my family.

Submitted by Néstor Serrano on Sat, 28/11/2020 - 01:48

I have used an artificial Christmas tree because this kind of practice is more beneficial for the environment, I can reuse them for several years but using the Natural Christmas, will affect negatively the environment because this kind of trees can purified the air using the Co2.