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Artificial & Alternative Trees Guide

Posted by Louise Hyde on 21 December 2018 at 5:01 pm

If a natural tree is not for you, you could consider an artificial tree or an alternative tree. This post provides some suggested considerations and alternative ideas.

1)    The Artificial Tree

Considered Benefits

The artificial tree has benefits that some households will find attractive such as:

  • It can be reused each year providing the convenience of not having to source a new one each year. This provides peace of mind, avoids queues and saves your valuable time each year and you can plan accordingly.
  • Financially an artificial tree is a one-off cost in comparison to shelling out each year.
  • If you live in a high rise flat with no lift it could save you the hassle of carting your tree up and down a stairwell each year.
  • If you go for an adjustable one it can suit future homes and room layouts
  • For those with tree-attacking pets the artificial tree can be a tidier option.
  • Avoids issues of allergies or needles from a real tree.
  • It is suggested if you use your artificial tree for  10  to 12 years, that this would have a comparatively lower environmental impact than buying a real tree each year.


The materials needed to produce an artificial tree usually require fossil fuels to produce them, emit dangerous chemicals in their production and can take hundreds of years to degrade. It is also believed that artificial trees are frequently imported from China, which increases their travel footprint.

One major factor is that due to the mix of materials in an artificial tree, they are mainly non-recyclable. Most trees use polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as PVC, in their production, this is mostly what the greenery part is made of. PVC is a popular choice as a synthetic plastic polymer and used rigidly in items like pipes, doors, windows and credit cards and flexibly in items like electric cables. The environmental impact of PVC is widely debated, particularly that recycling of it is inadequate and difficult. Comparatively the use of PVC in the production of artificial Christmas trees is much smaller than its use in other sectors such as building and packaging. However, the tree faces the same issues that other sectors do: chemicals used in the process, the waste management and recycling. You can also view an EU report on PVC here. PVC requires an additive to be a finished product and there were previous concerns of lead being used as stabilisers in PVC but legislation has now been updated to ensure it is not used dangerously. Polyethylene (PE) is also used for a more natural looking branch effect.

Again, the issue is complex with PVC usually being less environmentally-friendly option than a non-plastic, however within the plastic category the British Plastics Federation claim PVC takes less non-renewable fossil fuel to make than any other commodity plastic. Typically the frame is made of steel or aluminium requiring use of fossil fuels to produce.


If you do opt for an artificial here are some tips you can consider to be festive, yet mindful:

  • Try source a second-hand tree: most people have the internet at their fingertips and there is a wide range of second hand sites and apps, try starting with a ‘second hand Christmas tree’ search. Or network, try your friends or family to see if they have a spare tree they would like to give away.
  • Try reuse the same one for a long as possible, as this lowers the carbon emissions over its lifetime.
  • If you buy a new one get one made from recycled PVC.
  • And if you do decide to get rid of your artificial tree why not:
    • Give it to charity.
    • Sell it online.
    • See if any neighbours, family or friends want it.
    • Donate it to a local community centre or care home or student halls.


2)    An Alternative Tree

If you are not keen on bypassing a tree altogether (your Christmas being completely treeless) you could take gradual steps such as celebrating with an alternative tree.

  • This could include decorating an existing house plant.
  • A ‘Chalkboard Tree’ includes drawing a tree on a chalkboard or designated ‘chalk area’ with the benefit that is it erasable and can be used for other purposes throughout the year.
  • A ‘Branches Tree’ this entails using some twigs or branches and connecting them with string and decorating like a traditional tree. This is one of the more popular options.
  • A ‘Tape Outline Tree’ involves getting creative and making a tree outline from tape on the wall and adding appropriate decorations.

The idea of an alterative tree is to provide a Christmas related item which can return to its usual purpose after the festive period. The rule of thumb for this to make sure you do not end up adopting a more wasteful alternative.

Finally, overall the environmental impact of your choice is the execution and whichever method you opt for be considerate, source and dispose of responsibly. Merry Christmas from YouGen.


Links by topic

PVC Information:

Alternative Trees:


Recycled tree exercise:

Chalkboard tree:

Branches tree:

Tape outline tree:


About the author:

Louise joined NEF in 2018 after achieving her MA (Hons) in Environmental Sustainability and Geography and her Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Dundee. For her honours dissertation Louise researched the effectiveness of district heating as an environmental solution to reduce fuel poverty in Dundee. She is interested in sustainable energy and reducing fuel poverty. 

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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