Here at The Selkie Collective we feel that these days it's getting harder and harder to know what the best eco and sustainable choice is. There are so many variables, dependant on which perspective you look at for any one item.
Take plastic bags for example; the general consensus is that a virgin plastic bag is definately not good for the environment and that opting for a brown paper bag is the way to go. Sadly though it's not that simple; paper bags require mono-forests to be grown and cut down to produce the bags and according to research the manufacturing process produces a higher concentration of toxic chemicals in both air and water pollutants, compared with making single-use plastic bags. It takes four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag, as compared to plastic, and of course the raw materials comes from trees, which is a natural resource that when living is carbon absorbing. Making paper bags not only adds waste to the world, it also kills one of our greatest tools for fighting pollution. Paper bags also weigh more than plastic; this means transportation requires more energy, adding to their carbon footprint.
On the flip side, forests can be grown sustainably and trees are planted to replace lost trees, this will help to offset the climate impact of the production of paper bags, because trees lock up carbon from the atmosphere. This also doesn't mean that plastic is better, we know that plastic breaksdown into micro-plastics, it ends up in our oceans and kills countless marine and bird life.
The focus maybe shouldn't always be on the production impact of something, but instead the reusability of an item. By reusing the paper bag a minimum of four times it makes it a better environmental choice than a single use plastic bag. This was found by a study done by the Environment Agency, where they examined a range of bags made from different materials to find out how many times they need to be reused in order to have a lower global warming potential than a conventional single-use plastic bag. The takeaway is to reuse whatever you have as many times as possible.
So with knowing that things aren't always as they seem, we thought we would try and help with how best to make a decision on what type of Christmas tree to buy, after all it is the centre piece of Christmas!
If you're passing our little eco shop on the Isle of Skye you'll see that in the window we have a small faux tree. This tree is at least 12 years old and was passed on before that, so we guess it's about 15 years old! If your preference is to have a faux tree then the recommendation is it should be used for between 15-20 years to be worth the production of it in the first place. However, it isn't the most environmentally friendly choice if you're looking to buy a new one, but if you do want to purchase a new faux tree then look out for one that's been made from recycled plastic. If you've had one for years, that's great, keep using it for as long as you possibly can rather than throwing it out (because that wouldn't make sense....unless looking like you're "eco" is more important than actually being "eco").
Buying a real tree is a better option if you're starting from scratch. Tree farms are constantly planting trees, roughly 4-5 trees are planted for every one sold. The trees are left to grow for around 5-7 years which means in that time they will absorb a lot of carbon and create homes for wild life. Look for local growers rather than big supermarkets selling fresh trees as this will lessen the carbon footprint. The problem with real trees is what you do with it afterwards. It's estimated that 160,000 tonnes of real christmas trees are either flytipped or sent to landfill, and each tree sent to landfill has a carbon footprint of around 16kg as it decomposes and releases methane. The best thing to do with your tree is to get it chipped into mulch, often there are community tree chipping facilities that will chop up your tree for you or if you have the ability to do that at home then even better. There are some gardening rules if you're mulching pine trees, so head to Gardener's World to find out what's best and they also give some other great uses for your old christmas tree in the garden.
The best way to avoid any of that is to buy a living tree, one that has a good root ball and will live long past christmas when it is planted again to live out it's life naturally.
Ultimately there are pro's and con's to both artificial and real trees. Maybe the focus shouldn't be so much on what type of tree you buy, but instead what you do with it once all the festivities are over?
If you're looking for a real tree to buy in the Skye & Lochalsh area and want to support local businesses then Loch Duich Plants have a limited number of potted and cut Christmas trees available. Also Skye Shrubs in Portree have Nordmann Fir Christmas Trees which have been grown in the Highlands near Inverness, you can buy either 'pot grown' or 'cut' trees, and they will also deliver the tree to you for free anywhere on Skye!
We have tried our best to find a local chipping service near us on Skye, but as yet we haven't found anywhere. That put us into action, we've collaborated with Broadford & Strath Community Company and Skye Tree Surgeons to offer a tree chipping service on the 6th January at the Community Hub in Broadford. Head over to our events page to get the full details - Christmas Tree Chipping.
Wishing Everyone a Merry Christmas!