Which is more eco friendly - a plastic Christmas tree or a real one?

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Most of us have seen images of seabirds snagged in plastic and swirls of plastic in the ocean - so surely a ‘real’ Christmas tree must be more eco-friendly than plastic?

It’s actually not quite as simple as that, according to research by the Carbon Trust.

Every year, around eight million trees are bought in the UK and around seven million end up in landfill, emitting carbon dioxide and methane as they decompose.

Plastic trees can lead to plastic pollution if they’re disposed of irresponsibly - and CO2 is also released while they are being produced (plastic is often made in countries where coal is used heavily).

But plastic trees have the advantage that they can be used repeatedly, unlike a ‘real’ tree.

So which is best?

Read more: Best artificial Christmas trees from Aldi, M&S and more

The Carbon Trust says that it all depends on the way the tree is reused and disposed of - and that (surprisingly) it can be more environmentally friendly to choose plastic.

The Carbon Trust says, ‘An artificial tree used over multiple years (7-20 times depending on the weight and different materials in the tree) is better for the environment than buying a new, commercially grown tree every year.

Close up artificial green Christmas trees for sale in the market, shop. Prepearing for Christmas eve, new year party. Selective focus, copy space
Artificial green Christmas tree (Getty)

Roughly speaking, a 6,5ft artificial tree is responsible for 40kg of greenhouse gas emissions - so if you use it 10 times, it’s more environmentally friendly than a real tree.

But if you choose carefully, you can ensure that the negative environmental impact of a real tree is less.

The Carbon Trust says, ‘For real trees, those that are slow grown and use no fertilizer are preferable to those intensively grown. Check to see if it is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which ensures minimal fertiliser is used.’

Read more: A 1988 warning about climate change was mostly right

Speaking to the Guardian, Clare Oxborrow, Friends of the Earth senior sustainability analyst said, “For those who already own an artificial tree, it’s best to keep on using that over buying a new one. By reusing the same decorations year on year, unnecessary waste can also be kept to a minimum.”

Oxborrow also recommends picking trees which are grown locally to minimise carbon emissions from transport.

Another trend which has caught on in recent years is to rent a potted tree which is then planted for the rest of the year - meaning there are no dead trees rotting in landfill.

Read more: Why economists worry that reversing climate change is hopeless

Darran Messem, Managing Director of Certification at the Carbon Trust told The Independent: “A real pine or fir tree naturally absorbs CO2 and releases oxygen. The best thing you can do at Christmas is keep a tree alive and breathing.

“Disposing of a tree by composting produces CO2 and methane. An artificial tree has a higher carbon footprint than a natural one because of the energy-intensive production processes involved.

“By far the best option is a potted tree which, with care, can be replanted after the festive season and re-used year after year.”

Watch: Christmas tree more than 50ft tall after couple plants it in garden in 1978

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