Wondering how sustainable Christmas trees are? Here’s the breakdown of the alternatives:
If you own one, keep it (as long as possible, actually). If you are thinking of buying one, however, don’t. Artificial trees are made out of PVC and (mostly) shipped from China, therefore toxic, non-recyclable and with a huge footprint. According to some studies, you should make use of an artificial tree for 15 to 20 years for its impact to be comparable to that one of a real tree being cut down on a yearly basis.
Real cut off tree
A better option, and the most common one in European homes, I suppose. Christmas trees are grown on a farm and not cut from a virgin forest. Before they are cut down, they provide benefits such as cleaning the air and capturing carbon. They are a crop like any other, usually grown on soil unfitted for growing good.
However, like other crops, they can be grown in a better or a worse way. The majority of trees are farmed conventionally as a part of a monoculture, involving fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides as well as irrigation that causes waste water runoff. Their carbon footprint also depends on how far away they were transported to.
An ideal option would be organically grown and locally produced (if you live in a cold climate that is) Christmas tree. At the end of use, compost it.
Real potted tree
Growing a tree involves quite some resources and it’s too bad to throw it all away afterwards. If you have that option, a Christmas tree in a pot is a more sustainable alternative to a cut off one. You can replant it in your garden after the holidays, although that requires quite some knowledge and the right conditions. Perhaps a more realistic alternative is to rent one! Here’s an example of a Christmas tree rental company if you live in Vienna, Graz or München.