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 Roxana Chiaga on Sun, 11/12/2022 - 13:45


The boxes in Task 1 only accept one answer , not four. Can it be fixed? Thank you!

Hello Roxana,

When you want to add another sentence to a group, you have to click or press on the small white hand at the side of the words already in the box. If you don't do this, then the new words will stay but the old words will disappear from the box.

It's a little difficult to explain, so please let me know if you'd like me to explain it again.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maria Buzzetti on Sun, 04/12/2022 - 15:18


What about a third option? To celebrate Christmas AND help the environment, just plant a tree. Then you can always keep an artificial one at home and decorate it, even better if it isn't made of plastic but perhaps recycled wood...or fabric!

Submitted by dawletbay on Thu, 01/12/2022 - 23:37


I would buy definitely an artificial tree, because it is reusable and recyclable. We can use them every year and at the end recycle it by turning to other product.

Submitted by AlexandraMT on Wed, 10/08/2022 - 13:44


Well, in my country we used to buy an artificial trees. If I had the choice, I think I would use a natural tree. because it is more beneficial to the enviroment.

Submitted by jyoti Chaudhary on Wed, 27/04/2022 - 13:14


Which type of Christmas tree would you choose and why?
I'm not celebrating Christmas if I were you I would choose a really small tree and I always put it in my house with decorations. it is good for our environment

Submitted by Gaddiel on Wed, 02/02/2022 - 15:18


After reading the text, I has been convict to buy a fake,, because, first of all, there is no fir in the country I live right now, and I can save money when reusing the plastic Christmas tree during 10 years. I decided to keep the plastic Christmas tree I bought last year, so that I can reuse it at the end of this year.

Submitted by Miguelitorico1996 on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 16:42


Although it doesn't have a great impact in the environment , I'd choose a natural tree because it produces less carbon emissions than I artificial one, and in order to generate a lower footprint I'll bury it.

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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.