The custom of erecting a Christmas Tree can be historically traced to 15th century Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) and 16th century Northern Germany. Trees were decorated with apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers.
In Britain, the Christmas tree was introduced by George III’s Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in early 19th century. The first artificial Christmas trees were developed in Germany during the 19th century.
These trees were made using goose feathers that were dyed green and were one response by Germans to combat deforestation in Germany.
So as Christmas approaches at the rate of knots what options are there for selecting our much loved Christmas Tree and how environmentally friendly are they?
The first decision is whether to opt for a real or artificial tree.
A fake tree may keep its needles intact, but will probably be made from a petroleum-based product and may well have been flown in from China. Among the materials commonly used in the manufacture of artificial trees are PVC, polyurethane foam and steel. Although you may reuse it for several years, if your tree is not recyclable the chances are it will eventually end up in an Energy from Waste plant.
The Carbon Trust state that Buying a 6 foot fake tree, made from plastic, is as damaging to the environment as toasting 5,222 slices of bread or driving 120 miles in an average-sized car. A real tree of the same size creates carbon emissions the equivalent of toasting 418 pieces of bread and driving less than 10 miles.
Keeping it real
In the past, many of the real Christmas trees sold in the UK were transported from far-flung parts of Europe, but today a large number are grown in British plantations. An advantage of a real tree is that, whilst growing, it absorbs the greenhouse gas CO2. However, not all growers use sustainable methods. When picking your christmas tree up, check whether your local supplier is Soil Association or Forestry Commission certified to be sure. The British Christmas Tree Growers Association has a list of suppliers that may help. The Soil Association also has a great page with further information for what to look for.
Choosing a live tree can be a cost effective and environmentally friendly option. However, ensure that you choose a tree with good roots. Try not to keep it too warm, for example next to a radiator and ensure that you give it plenty of water so that it is healthy and ready to re-plant in the New Year.
Buck the trend
Not the popular choice by far but you could go tree free and have no tree at all or decorate an existing plant in your home and make a donation to the Woodland Trust
Whichever option you choose please dispose of your tree responsibly. Unwanted fake trees can be passed on to someone else via reuse sites such as Facebook Marketplace, Freegle, Freecycle or sold via Gumtree, Preloved, Amazon or Ebay or taken to your local Household Waste Recycling Centre. Real trees can be shredded and composted at home or put out for collection via your local council click here to see if your council provides this service or taken for composting to your nearest Household Waste Recycling Centre click here to see where your nearest Centre is.