This debate is never going to go away. The question of whether to buy a fake or real Christmas tree has divided families for years and will continue to do so. However, both real and fakes have their advantages and their disadvantages. Those who buy real trees appeal as much to logic as they do to the emotional side of decision-making. Those who love fake trees equally point to a list of advantages they have over the real thing.
Advantages of Real Christmas Trees
The major advantage that lovers of real trees emphasise is that nothing compares to that distinct smell and feel of the tree and its leaves. Even the best quality fakes are discernibly fake, and can never truly look authentic. “Tradition” is a powerful argument on its own, not needing a list of reasons to support it.
There is also an environmental advantage. Most Christmas tree plantations are sustainable, planting at least as many new trees every year as are cut down. However, as you will see in this article, the idea that a real tree is better for the environment falls down on several issues. Plantations provide jobs for small farmers who operate and trade in local areas. For people who wish to shop as locally as possible at Christmas, there is no other choice.
Disadvantages of Christmas Real Trees
Everybody who has ever had a real tree will know that pine needles will still be turning up, lodged in the carpet at Easter. They get everywhere and can be difficult to remove. The last thing you need is to get one stuck in your foot, as that can be quite painful.
Real trees are high maintenance; they require watering all the year round – that’s assuming you purchase one with roots (which will come at an extra cost – another disadvantage of real trees). If you buy a tree without roots, you will need to dispose of it. Any environmental benefit you thought the tree would have is negated when burning (carbon) or sending it to landfill (methane), arguably, this has a higher footprint than fake trees.
Advantages of Fake Christmas Trees
The immediate and obvious benefit to a fake tree is the cost. Not only are these trees cheaper at the time of purchase, having many years of guaranteed use makes them very cost effective. Naturally, the plastic and metals will degrade over time but nowhere near as quickly as a real tree – with or without roots.
There is a major grey area when it comes to the environmental argument. In some cases, fake trees are the better option. You’ll need to keep a typical 5ft (1.5m) tree for at least ten years. While it is true that these plastic trees come from processed oils (one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases), the lesser need for disposal gives them one advantage. You won’t need to buy a new one every year.
Disadvantages of Fake Christmas Trees
Some of the most expensive fake trees will give you many years of happy use. They are attractive and sometimes you won’t even need to add your own lights as they come integrated. However, fake trees always look fake. Few have come close to imitating the real thing – including the look, feel and smell. For some people, fake trees are simply not up to the standards that they would want.
The majority of fake trees purchased in the UK come from outside the UK – typically China, like most of our manufactured goods. This increases the carbon footprint regardless of the other environmental advantages. Many people make the conscious decision at Christmas to shop locally.
It used to be that fake trees were a greater fire risk. Indeed, many people may buy real trees because of this. However, improvements in technology mean that they must meet EU standards – manufactured from flame retardant materials and are much less of a fire risk. Real trees do present a slight fire risk if they are permitted to dry out. Keep them watered and they too should be safe.