Real Nol Fir or Synthetic Fir: Which is More Ecological?

– November 22, 2019 – Pop culture

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While we eagerly await the startup that will streamline the Christmas tree into sustainable electrical artificial intelligence, the question still arises as to the more or less ecological character of the various Christmas trees on the market today. And luckily, we have data in 2019 that is reliable enough to answer that question.

As Christmas approaches, the tradition of the Christmas tree inevitably comes to mind. At the editorial office, we have not yet set our sights on the Christmas tree that will be on our side of the open space. But since plastic has been around, the natural fir team has been competing against theartificial firteam. It would be fairly easy to believe that artificial firs are more environmentally friendly than natural firs (which are, after all, real trees felled for a tradition), but the issue is actually a little more complex and has been particularly well documented in recent years

Artificial firs

Artificial fir has several flaws that make it a very poor ecological choice: it is made of plastic, a material that is not very eco-friendly, is not easily recycled and is not biodegradable. Moreover, in many cases, the artificial tree was assembled in China, so the path of the object must be added to the environmental note. Not to mention the products that may have escaped controls and in which traces of lead could be found, which is really not advisable for your health. You can find “fir trees” starting at 3 € on AliExpress, sold in France: so much so that they will not have seen the shadow of a checkpoint.

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An artificial tree. // Source:

A study conducted in Canada on the environmental impact of artificial fir trees showed that if you choose such an object, you will have to keep it for more than 20 years so that its impact on the environment is the same as if you had chosen a natural tree every year. This has been minimized by other studies that have estimated that at least 10 years of use is required to achieve this result. Luxury trees also exist: For example, Balsam Hill is pleased to achieve maximum realism with a patented process for creating needles with polyurethane. At over €100 for small models and up to €1400 for decorated models, the brand promises “by hand” and fir trees that can last “a lifetime“. Quality is expensive.

In short, you’d better appreciate the plastic tree you’ve chosen and have taken a good quality model that will still look like something in 10 or 20 years.

Natural Fir Trees

On the other hand, natural firs have some advantages that are often overlooked by consumers. Firstly, Christmas trees do not contribute to the deforestation of our planet, as the brands of artificial trees try to make us believe (even the luxury brand mentioned above): like all consumer agricultural products, they are grown for this use. There are therefore many of thefields of Christmas trees that are made up of trees that were planted solely for the decoration of the month of December.

In the United States alone, 350 million trees grow precisely for this trade and 30 million are cut down each year around Christmas. This means that several tens of millions of trees planted on these farms are used all year round to create a local microcosm: the trees are home to animals and provide a breeding ground for plants. In reality, we are almost the opposite of deforestation: the Christmas tree business helps to finance and maintain fir forests.

Fir forest - Tom Simpson

Fir Forest – Tom Simpson

This obviously means that to reduce the environmental impact of your purchase, you should buy local. If the tree of your dreams comes from the other side of the world and has been delivered by plane and then by truck to your door, wrapped in plastic, you’ve got it all wrong. Instead, you can spot a fir tree that grew up in France with its Fleurs de France crest and a fir tree that grew up on an environmentally friendly farm with its Plante Bleue crest.

Whichever natural fir you choose, it offers different recycling possibilities. If you live in a house and have a garden, you can opt for a potted tree that you can replant – recovery is generally good if you placed the tree in an unheated room before replanting and do not plant it in frosty weather. If you live in an apartment, you can have it recycled: it will then have a third life as compost or shavings. Fir, on the other hand, is not a very good firewood.

Be sure to pay attention to the legislation in force in your town before putting your tree on the pavement. In Paris, for example, it is best to drop off your fir tree at a collection point: more than 170 gardens and parks welcome fir trees every year and more than 50,000 conifers are deposited there. In 2017/2018, the operation resulted in the recovery of 85,009 firs from the 164 collection points in the capital. They are crushed on the spot (no unnecessary transport) and used to line the floors to prevent weed growth. In France, in 2015, 83.1% of the trees purchased were natural firs and 90% of them were cut firs (those that cannot be replanted).

A real fir tree

A real fir tree

In brief

If you choose an artificial Christmas tree, you have to get used to the idea that your plastic or polyurethane tree is 10 to 20 years old. Whatever happens, favour European or French production that does not use dangerous chemical compounds – easier said than done, since more than two thirds of the artificial trees sold are Chinese, especially the cheaper ones.

If you choose a natural Christmas tree, check where the tree is coming from and choose it with your post-holiday plans in mind. Also remember that natural Christmas trees grow specifically for this use and have many environmental benefits, from their ability to be 100% recycled to the planting areas which are truly small forests with a complete natural ecosystem.

A previous version of this article stated that it could be interesting to use one’s fir tree in a fireplace: this is not true, it is just any kind of firewood, if not bad. Thanks to the commentators who have noticed this error.

Article originally published on 7 December 2017

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