Real versus fake Christmas trees

Fake christmas tree

This plastic-fantastic tree may look nice, but is it a good choice for the environment?

Credit: iStockphoto

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The journey to your home

Both types of tree require transportation to reach your home, which means fossil fuels are burnt and air pollution generated.

The greater the distance travelled, the larger the impact, and plastic trees certainly rack up the kilometres. The vast majority of Australia's artificial trees are made in factories in Asia. If a family in Melbourne buys a plastic tree made in China, then it has travelled more than 8,000 km to arrive at its new home.

Alternatively, someone living near Melbourne's CBD could get a real tree from a plantation less than 50 km away.

Ghosts of Christmas past

A fake Christmas tree can't be recycled and that means its final resting place will be the local dump. Here the PVC will stay in much the same form for thousands of years.

Despite the longevity of a fake tree, the National Christmas tree association in the US estimates they are usually replaced every six to nine years.

Naturally, you'll need a yearly replacement for a real tree. Disposing of a real tree is simple if you have a mulcher at home, otherwise, some councils organise curb-side pick up of Christmas trees in the new year. Some cut tree suppliers will also take back used trees for mulching.

The verdict

Despite the shorter life span, real trees are the way to go. They use fewer resources, create less pollution and can be recycled.

When buying a real tree, try to make sure it has come from a local farm and hasn't been transported thousands of kilometres on the back of a truck. Trees that have come from timber plantations are the best because no extra resources were used to grow them.

If you want to go one step further, Nina Bailey, from the Australian Conservation Foundation, suggests buying a living tree.

"The ideal example is to buy a wollemi pine, or another Australian native plant, in a pot," says Bailey. "If it is not kept for next Christmas, it can be planted and will require less water over its lifetime than an exotic plant."

Check out the story on the 7pm Project here.

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