It can feel like an annual dilemma. A real Christmas tree seems a more natural choice, but hundreds of millions of them are bought every December. That’s a lot of intensive production, and potentially a lot of waste.
It’s true that fake plastic trees last for years – and nowadays they can look very realistic. But they do take enormous amounts of energy to manufacture. And it’s yet more synthetic waste to be disposed of in the future.
So let’s look at the options in more detail…
With six million Christmas trees sold in France every year, a French environment agency has issued advice on how to choose the right variety, and how to best look after and recycle your tree.
Environment agency Ademe (Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie) has explained that the majority of households in France choose a living tree to decorate their home over the Christmas period, as explained in Le Figaro.
The popularity of the trees available depends on their characteristics, including the Nordmann variety – which keeps its needles but has no smell -, is favoured by around 75% of households that buy natural trees, and costs on average €27.60.
The next most-popular is the Epicea, which smells good but loses its needles, and costs on average €20.20.
All can be replanted outside if bought in a pot, Ademe recommends.
It also cautioned against buying trees covered in artificial snow or coloured paint, because they tend to be created using harmful chemicals, which can both “degrade the air” of your home and also be very flammable, it said.
Similarly, chemical coverings make it more difficult for trees to be recycled or disposed of safely after Christmas.
If you’ve got a fake tree already, keep using it – make it last as long as possible. But look into more environmentally-sound options when it eventually comes to replacing it.
If you do want to get a fake one, for whatever reason, you could first of all ask around to see if anyone wants to recycle one.
If you want to be reassured that your tree has been grown sustainably, not in a way that’s environmentally damaging, ask about its provenance.
Grow your own
Buying a potted tree with roots lets you grow it outside and use it again next year, reducing its environmental impact and costing you less. But they do need some looking after, and you’ll need a big pot.
Alternatively, if you’re feeling a bit radical or non-traditional, get a large perennial indoor plant – like a yucca, palm, fig etc – and just decorate it at Christmas time.
Recycling real trees
Far more Christmas trees get recycled now than even 10 years ago. Most towns have allocated locations where people can leave their tree after Christmas (take the decorations off first!).
In the UK it’s possible to rent a tree from a garden centre or plant nursery. Does anyone know of any rental places in France? If so, please get in touch with us, and we can publish the details.
Cut food waste
When you’re food shopping, try and choose things that are light on packaging, or buy loose items.
And if you end up over-catering, don’t just bin what’s left. Transforming leftovers can be a great way to create new meals, save money and cut waste. Classic winter dishes like turkey pie and bubble and squeak are perfect for making the most of your leftovers, not to mention Brussels sprout curry.
If you have too many leftovers, see what you can freeze. Or why not donate some to an elderly neighbour, local food bank or soup kitchen? Compost any other waste.
Decorations and gifts
Most of us love a bit of festive decoration and fancy wrapping, and who doesn’t like getting Christmas cards? But research suggests that the paper waste over the Christmas period is equivalent to 5-12 million litres of biofuel – enough to power a bus to go to the moon 20 times.
So why not recycle or make your own Christmas decorations? It’s a great excuse to have fun, and keep kids busy, if there’s any around. You can also try getting creative with dried fruit peel, pine cones, Christmas tree offcuts and the like.
Green gift wrapping
Use newspapers or magazines saved from your recycling – the more colourful the better.
Cut your card footprint
E-cards (sent online) are an increasingly popular alternative. They cut your carbon footprint, save trees and save money.
A lot of decorations – sadly including staples like tinsel and glitter – are made from plastic, often PVC. They’re hardly environmentally-friendly.
Create your own edible Christmas decorations, or a homemade Advent calendar, or make a natural Christmas wreath from carefully foraged materials?
If you’re using fairy lights, make sure you get LED ones – they’re the most energy-efficient. And put them on a timer so they’re not on all day.
Source Friends of the Earth, The Connexion