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  • Emmanuel Dean

The truth behind real Christmas trees: Are they really sustainable?

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a tree, but is having a real one a sustainable option? Well, it all depends on how you dispose it afterwards.

People would expect that real Christmas trees are sustainable, right? However, a natural tree produces large quantities of greenhouses gases. The reason behind the Christmas tree large carbon emission is due to the structure of its thousands of pine needles, which takes a long time to decompose if compared to other tree leaves.

The carbon footprint of a 2m-tall cut Christmas tree that ends up in a landfill is equivalent to 16kg of CO2, according to the Carbon Trust. Considering that approximately 30 million cut trees are sold in the United States only each year, real Christmas trees alone generate over 480 million kg of CO2.

New Creative Recycling Methods

According to a new research from the University of Sheffield, natural and old abandoned Christmas trees could be recycled from landfills and turned into paint and food sweeteners.

With the help of heat and solvents (e.g., glycerol), pine needles can be broken down into liquid and solid by-products through cheap and environmentally friendly methods. It is a sustainable and zero-waste process as the solid by-products can be repurposed into other industrial chemical processes too.

With this new finding, carbon emissions can be decreased by reducing the amount of cut Christmas trees that are sent to landfills. This could make future industrial processes more sustainable as new products are created from things previously considered as waste. Additionally, this recycling method can also be used for forest and agricultural waste after the festive season, replacing less sustainable chemicals currently being used in various industries.

Sustainable Alternatives for Christmas Trees

There are still eco-friendly alternatives to Christmas trees which people could adapt to reduce their carbon footprint during the holidays.

The most sustainable solution is live Christmas trees with roots. The difference between a potted Christmas tree and a “regular” cut Christmas tree is that once the season ends, the tree can simply be re-planted outdoors and grow once more, eliminating the recycling process altogether.

There are also companies that provide potted Christmas trees for consumers to adopt or rent, so people who do not have a garden or do not want to plant the tree themselves can still have a sustainable Christmas.

Besides the natural trees, there is always the option to create your own tree out of old books, string lights or other items at home, making it a completely zero-waste Christmas.

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