So December is upon us... so soon! Winter is a challenging time to stay green, and I'm finding it increasingly difficult to make it through all of 2007 while remaining carbon neutral. With this in mind I've started thinking about Christmas, and how I can green it up a bit.
Firstly, trees. A few years back I read a vaguely convincing article about how the greenest choice of tree is an artificial one. This is based an several assumptions, the most important being that the tree is reused for several years and recycled at the end of its life. If this is done then the benefits supposedly outweigh the fact that it is made of petrochemicals in China. However, is this true? Having looking into it a bit it seems that artificial trees are very hard to recycle since they are mostly made of steel and PVC. PVC can't easily be burned due to the emissions given off, while it's difficult to remove the steel without doing this since most trees are made by twisting the steel and PVC strands very tightly. One must also be realistic about how long trees are kept. My parents are probably reasonably unusual in that we had the same (aluminium) tree for about twenty years and it never seemed to get more scrappy, but how many people lose bits, buy a different size, or whatever? The sheer amount of artificial trees sold before Christmas at DIY centres suggests that people don't keep them forever.
So what about real trees? Some of the bad press they have received about their green credentials has been based on historical figures of imports. There was a time when the majority of trees were imported, but most are now British-grown, thus reducing the fuel used in transport. However, fuel is still used - there are the carbon costs of preparing the fields, planting the trees, the pesticides/herbicides used for growing, then transporting the trees afterwards. If the trees are grown in place of an older wood then there's also the impact of destroying the existing trees, which as a worst case could be an ancient oak forest. Plantations of Christmas trees do not lend themselves well to biodiversity, although of course they provide more cover for animals than bare ground.
So the best choice for a new tree is still not clear. I think that in the worst case for the real tree, such as one that is imported, grown on cleared deciduous woodland, heavily sprayed, and so on, an artificial tree may still be the best option. This is even more true if you can find a PVC-free, easy to recycle tree that is made locally. That is if those exist, of course.
It goes without saying that the greenest option is not to get a new tree at all. Use a living tree, or just buy a second-hand artificial tree (an easy way to recycle them!). You could also consider one of the cute 'grow your own' kits. These are all zero-carbon options, and you end-up with a tree that's just as fine. It's also a little reduction on the mad consumerism of the season of course, which is something we should all take some time to think about.
Now as for when to put the tree up... well, that's another kettle of fish!