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Hints & Tips

The Eternal Christmas Battle – Real Tree vs Artificial Tree

The Christmas tree. Every year we are faced with the same dinner table discussion: do we buy a real tree this time round, or would it be best to invest in a plastic one? Many newspapers and environmental blogs have discussed the issue and, in short, there is not straightforward answer. Here at Preloved we have looked into this topic and want to raise several points that are for and against both options.

Real Tree

The Christmas tree originated in Germany as early as the 16th century. It fills the home with a lovely scent, brings nature indoors and the family decorate it with lights, baubles, pinecones, etc. If you do decide to buy a real tree, please ensure you are sourcing it locally. You can check the Forestry Commission website for useful information and research providers near you. For example, The Christmas Forest grows trees in a sustainable way thanks to their 9-year crop rotation. Every tree cut is replaced with another one.

In terms of waste, if you have a garden you can do many things with the tree. You can make habitats around the garden, store the timber for BBQ days in the summer, or use both the pine needles and woodchips as mulch on the flower and veg beds. If you are particularly inclined towards crafts, perhaps look into doing some woodwork!

Alternatively, the company you source the tree from might collect it for a fee, or your council might have a kerbside collection service.

real christmas tree

Plastic Tree

Research carried out by Ellipsos, the Canadian consulting firm in sustainable development (now Ellio) found that in order for a plastic Christmas tree to have a lower contribution to climate change it must be used over the period of 20 years. It also estimated that a natural tree will generate 3kg of greenhouse gases, whereas the artificial one will produce 8kg per year in comparison.

If you do opt for a plastic Christmas tree because it is less hassle, we strongly recommend you consider getting one second hand; and while we’re at it, in the colour green. Until manufacturers come up with a more eco-friendly Christmas tree look alike, these trees will be made of plastic, shipped over from China and will end up on landfill as they will not decompose. All in all not great in terms of carbon footprint.

artificial christmas tree

Potted Tree

The discussion naturally takes us to a potted tree. Granted, it won’t be a 6ft number, but you can have a real tree in the home and then keep it outside for the rest of the year! If you get it small enough, you can keep it for several years and pot it on when necessary. Then, come December, you can bring it in for the season festivities. Experts stress that it is important to ensure it is a native fir, so it will be easier to get acclimatised to the outdoors. Once it gets too big to bring in and out, you can either plant it or offer it to your nearest nature reserve.

Alternatively, there are local businesses that offer the option of renting a tree. This seems to be the best of both worlds! We haven’t managed to collate an exhaustive list of businesses who do this, but do let us know if you know of any in your area so we can share the list with our members next year.

Seda y Nacar

Image Credit: Seda y Nacar


So, if a real tree isn’t an option, you don’t have a garden, there is no tree rental service near you but you don’t want to invest in a plastic tree, it’s time to look for alternatives. If you still want some greenery in the home, perhaps we should simply deck the halls with boughs of holly. Pinecones, mistletoe, twigs, oranges, clove, foliage and holly. They all add to the Christmas spirit.

We have found some inspiring alternatives to the traditional Christmas tree that look just as festive.

1. Source a branch and position it upside down.

1. tree Pinterest 2

Image Credit: Pinterest

2. If you live on the seaside, why not try finding some driftwood?

2. tree Pinterest 4

Image Credit: Pinterest

3. Or why not make it a feature on the wall?

3. tree Pinterest 5

Image Credit: Pinterest

4. A simple structure adorned with garlands you already have will convey the same sentiment.

4. tree Pinterest 3

Image Credit: Pinterest

5. As always, the ladder sweeps in to save the day. It looks magical with the lights draped around it.

5. tree Interior Break

Image Credit: Interior Break

6. This creator has taken it one step further and shown an alternative to the term “fake tree”. She has made a structure similar to that of a tepee. She then used honeysuckle vines to tie around the tepee – perhaps you could use willow. She then foraged greenery and weaved into the tree.

6. tree Toko-pa

Image Credit: Toko-pa

What do you prefer? Real or plastic? Or do you have an alternative tree!? Leave us a comment 🙂

Zoe Allison

Zoe Allison

Writer and expert