Carbon footprint of Christmas trees grown nearby is small – in the land of Father Christmas, many fetch the tree themselves from the forest

23.12.2021 / Article
Coniferous forest at winter sunrise. Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

When choosing the Christmas tree, more and more families think not only about traditions, but also about the carbon footprint of the tree. It is best to locate a real tree somewhere close by – otherwise an artificial one is more climate-friendly.

Huge numbers of Christmas trees are again bought this year. It is estimated that every year, the number of trees sold in Europe and the United Sates is almost 300 million.

Opinions as to the best species, colour or number of branches of the Christmas tree vary, but there is something that divides people sharply into two groups: should it be real or plastic? In the USA, for example, only one in every four Christmas trees is real, whereas in Finland, the land of Father Christmas, only a quarter of the households have an artificial tree.

About one half of Finnish homes will have a real tree, and almost one quarter of the households celebrate Christmas without any tree at all.

Almost 1.4 million real trees will be sold in Finland this Christmas. One million of them come from domestic plantations, and 100,000 are imported from Denmark and other countries. For many, fetching the tree from their own forest is a favourite task before Christmas. There are 600,000 forest owners in Finland, and almost 300,000 trees are fetched by the owners from their own holdings.

’Growing Christmas trees on plantations is ecological, for the tree binds carbon and after the festivities it can be used for energy. If fetching a tree from the forest you can choose one that will leave more space to grow for one standing close by,’ says Markku Remes, Senior Expert of Forest Management at the Finnish Forest Centre.

Christmas tree. Photo: Anna Kauppi
Finnish Christmas tree plantations are mostly set up in agricultural fields which for some reason are no longer used for agriculture. After reaching the proper age (7 to 12 years), they are felled for sale and new seedlings are planted to replace them. Photo: Anna Kauppi

Trees can also be fetched from State forests – after buying a permit, of course. The Christmas tree permit costs EUR 10, and it entitles you to fetch a tree of maximally 3 metres in height from State-owned multiple-use forests in commercial use.

COVID-19 enhances the popularity of real trees

Last year, the unprecedented popularity of Christmas trees was in the news all over the world. In the midst of the first Christmas during the pandemic, people longed for something safe and familiar, and this was represented by the traditional real tree with its natural scent.

’Christmas tree sales were brisk last year, and we’re expecting the same this year. People also want to bring the tree in earlier than before,’ says Juha Ruuska, Chair of the Finnish Christmas Tree Association.

According to the Finnish Christmas Tree Association, the carbon print of a real Finnish Christmas tree is only about two kilograms, which means it is smaller than for a bag of rice. In this case, the tree will have grown somewhere close by and will most likely be recycled, either by burning for energy or chipping to provide ’brown’ material for composting biowaste.

The British Carbon Trust, however, says that an artificial tree may be more ecological than buying a real tree every year, provided that the same plastic tree is used often enough. Depending on the size and material of the tree, this may vary from seven up to as many as twenty years.

The Carbon Trust also urges people to buy a tree with roots, so that it can later be planted in the garden. This will reduce the carbon footprint quite a lot.

In Germany, for example, renting a Christmas tree in a pot is popular. After Christmas the tree is returned to the grower, who will see that it is re-planted. However, the temperature differences in some parts of the world are too great for re-planting to succeed.

This video by the Finnish Forest Centre and the Finnish Christmas Tree Association illustrates the journey of a Christmas tree from the plantation to a family home.

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How to care for your Christmas tree

  • If you take the tree home by car over a long distance, protect it from the wind. Otherwise it will dehydrate and shed its needles.
  • Before bringing the tree into room temperature, leave it for 24 hours somewhere cool (above zero) if it is frozen. Place the stem end in water.
  • Saw 3 to 5 centimetres off the stem end so the tree will take in more water. Do not de-bark the end, as this will dehydrate the tree.
  • Make sure the tree always has enough water. For the first 24 hours the intake may be quite high.
  • Avoid placing the tree near radiators, fireplaces, ovens or fans, as these may cause it to dehydrate.
  • Make sure the tree is appropriately recycled after Christmas.

Source: Finnish Forest Centre

Anna Kauppi

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