What’s the greenest Christmas tree option? Real or fake?
11th Dec 2018
So you’ve switched to keep cups and reusable bags but have you thought about how green your Christmas will be?
Christmas in Australia is ever-evolving but the one thing has remained a constant: a Christmas tree as the centrepiece of our celebrations.
But as environmental concerns around the consumer frenzy of Christmas come to the fore, the vexed question of what constitutes the greenest option for buying a Christmas tree seems more relevant than ever.
What is the problem with plastic trees?
Plastic Christmas trees remain the most common option in Australia.
But using a tree made from oil turned into plastic and transported from Chinese factories, which will eventually find its way to landfill is definitely not the most green option.
However, according to Total Environment Centre waste campaigner Lisa Wriley, if used over a long period of time plastic trees can have their environmental benefits.
“I would say if you are using an artificial tree, look after it and keep using it as long as you can,” she said.
“Anything that is plastic whether a plastic bag or a Christmas tree — the longer its usable lifespan the better.”
Single-use real Christmas trees
While it also seems obvious that cutting down trees is bad for the environment, the fact is that the most commonly sold Christmas trees from Australian nurseries and outlets are pine trees that are plantation grown.
That means in most cases the farmer will replace them straight after they are cut down, and in the meantime they are providing habitat for local birds and enriching the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide.
On top of that, pine plantations are generally grown in areas that are otherwise unusable for other crops.
These biodegradable trees (most councils will collect them for free after Christmas Day) are supporting local economies in rural areas of Australia.
According to Planet Arc, as long as these trees are mulched or composted at the end, using single-use pine trees is a good option as it gives farmers an incentive to sequester carbon.
What is the greenest option?
While many studies, including this one from the David Suzuki Foundation, come out in favour of getting a natural tree rather than an artificial one, there are still many variables to consider.
Buying a potted tree is perhaps the best option of all: you can reuse the plant.
Good Australian options include Allocasuarina (She-Oak) which is a native tree or a Adenanthos sericeus (Wooly Bush) both of which can be potted throughout the year until they outgrow the pot and can be planted in your garden.
The trick here is to choose trees that will survive the Australian summer and that you will want to keep as garden fixtures for the whole year round.
Garth Rumble from the Garden of Eden Nursery in Melbourne says the trend of picking a non-traditional tree is growing.
“People have started buying all sorts of trees for Christmas trees, even small mandarin trees are common,” he says.
“Many people these days want trees that they are then able to enjoy after Christmas by simply planting in the garden or keeping them in pots for next year.”
Get creative and ethical for Christmas
While sourcing an ethical Christmas tree is a great step, the biggest environmental impacts at Christmas come from other things like unwanted gifts or airline travel to visit relatives.
As far as decorating the Christmas tree, use LED lights rather than traditional flashing lights to reduce the power output.
Consider making it a pre-Christmas family event to decorate the tree using recycled materials such as coloured-in cardboard.
Think creatively about how to avoid creating more landfill from your Christmas decorations.
My mother, for example, has recently started to make Christmas bonbons herself using recycled materials and putting non-plastic gifts such as scratchy tickets inside them.
Thinking creatively about how to make yours a greener Christmas on all levels will help lift the festive cheer in the knowledge that your family is pro-actively taking steps to protect the environment.