By Madeleine Smitham
News and Content Producer, WWF-Australia
Growing up, every year my mum would rummage in our cellar for a bit and then emerge, victorious, with our six-foot-tall plastic Christmas tree that we bought when I was about 6 years-old. It would be brought out every festive season, to stand in our family room, for over 20 years.
And while maybe a couple of hundred dollars in the early 90s seemed a good investment, the question is, what was the true cost of that tree?
My thought has always been that, yes, the tree is plastic, but surely reusing it year-after-year is better than cutting down a tree every year and throwing it away?
Turns out no.
These days most plastic trees have travelled all the way from China, so already their carbon footprint is huge, they are made from environmentally damaging petroleum chemicals and, sadly, one day they will be retired and thrown out. A consulting firm in Montreal found that an artificial tree would need to be re-used for 20 years to to have a lower environment impact than a real tree. Their calculations even included greenhouse gas emissions, use of resources and human health impacts.
While my family’s tree made it to the two decade mark, not many do, and our tree, like every other discarded piece of plastic on the planet, is now languishing in landfill.
So what alternatives do we have to put our presents under that won’t cost the Earth? Turns out heaps!
Want a green option that's fun, festive and fruity? The hottest Christmas tree trend this year is all about decorated pineapples! A miniature tropical tree is great for people with small apartments or on a tight budget, or who just want to try something new.
Why not celebrate Australia's unique fauna with a real native tree? A potted Australian pine like a Wollemi or a cypress can be used year after year. You can assist in the conservation of the ancient Wollemi pine by buying one here.
Another idea is to repurpose backyard trees, or other potted plants into living, festive, Christmas trees that can be enjoyed year after year, and won’t end up in landfill. The best idea (other than a decorated pineapple) I’ve heard is turning a rosemary bush into a festive tree!
What about for the traditionalists?
For the traditionalists, a real Christmas trees won’t cost the Earth. Unlike their plastic counterparts, a cut down Christmas tree was purpose grown in a plantation for up to 12 years, helped remove dust from the air, produced oxygen and absorbed carbon dioxide. It will then be replaced by another tree, and the cycle continues.
In most major cities it’s even possible to buy online and get them delivered, and the City of Sydney will pick up the tree post Christmas for free, they also advise that you can break up the tree and put it in the green or normal rubbish bin to be composted for mine site rehabilitation.
It’s easier than ever to be sustainable. While transporting live trees still has a footprint, when the products themselves are returned to the earth to break down and rejoin the ecosystem, it’s pretty much a carbon neutral solution, and in my books that’s a far better alternative than my plastic tree, a ghost of Christmas's past.
This year I’m choosing a green option, how about you? Let us know on Facebook.