It wouldn’t be Christmas without a Christmas tree, but is having one sustainable?
People would expect that plastic trees are the least environmentally friendly option since most are not recyclable and end up in landfills. However, a real tree produces large quantities of greenhouses gases, contrary to the popular belief that real trees are sustainable. 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 compared to other tree leaves.
The carbon footprint of a 2m-tall real Christmas tree that ends up in a landfill is equivalent to 16kg of CO2, according to the Carbon Trust. Approximately 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States each year, which totals to over 480 million kg of CO2 produced each year through Christmas trees alone.
However, according to new research from the University of Sheffield, fresh 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 Christmas trees sent to the 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.
Nonetheless, there are still alternative Christmas tree purchasing options which individuals could adapt to reduce their carbon footprint during the Christmas season. The most sustainable solution is potted Christmas trees. 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. Therefore, people who do not have a garden or do not want to plant the tree themselves can still have a sustainable Christmas.