This year promises to be a bumper Christmas, with 70% of retailers feeling upbeat about festive trading, according to an independent survey of multichannel retailers commissioned by Barclays.

With more and more of us buying bigger and better presents for our loved ones, the environmental impact of economic confidence returning will not just be an increase in the amount of wrapping paper being used this Christmas.

Your choice of Christmas tree has an enormous effect on the environmental impact of festive celebrations. As first glance, it might appear an artificial tree that can be reused year after year is better for the environment than uprooting a real tree, which can take up to 10 years to reach 6ft tall.

However, it should be remembered that the majority of artificial trees sold in the UK are imported from the Far East and the PVC or fibre optics used in their construction cannot biodegrade. This is why the Carbon Trust points out that households with an artificial tree would have to reuse it for 10 Christmases for it to have a better environmental impact than a real Christmas tree.  

In fact, a 6ft artificial Christmas tree produces 40kg of CO2 emissions if it’s thrown into a landfill site, while a real tree of the same height produces 16kg of emissions if it’s left to decompose. This is because the tree produces methane gas as it decomposes, which is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.

Britons buy about 6 million real Christmas trees every year, with the non-drop Nordmann fir accounting for about 80% of sales. Government estimates put the weight of these waste trees dumped in landfill sites each year at about 160,000 tonnes. This can cost your council about £2.50 in fees and landfill taxes per tree, according to the Local Government Association.  

Those discarded trees also have an environmental cost. Independent adviser The Carbon Trust says how you dispose of your real Christmas tree is much more significant than where it comes from and how much fuel was used to get it to your home. 

Christmas tree recycling

Benefits of burning Christmas trees

If you burn your Christmas tree on a bonfire, plant it or have it chipped to spread on the garden that significantly reduces the carbon footprint by up to 80% to about 3.5kg of CO2. Burning the tree emits the CO2 that it stored up when it was growing so there's no net increase.

But not every Christmas tree buyer has a garden to burn their tree in or replant it to reuse the following year. This is why a growing number of local councils offer a Christmas tree recycling service.

Trees that are recycled are either made into woodchips or turned into soil conditioner, which has a variety of uses including for agriculture and compost. Councils offer Christmas tree recycling in a variety of ways: some will collect trees with normal garden waste, some will have designated collections and others will have special drop-off points.

We would advise checking with your local authority to see how your festive tree can avoid contributing to the environmental cost of Christmas.

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