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November 28, 2022

Choosing a Christmas tree with fewer chemicals

Around 8 million real Christmas trees are sold in the UK each year. They’re thought to have been introduced to the UK by Prince Albert in 1840, but it was Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III who should take the credit. She first introduced a Christmas tree at Windsor in 1800. 


According to the Carbon Trust a tree without roots generates about 16kg of carbon dioxide when disposed of into landfill. This drops down significantly if planted, chipped, or burned, reducing the carbon footprint by more than 4 times to 3.5kg of CO2. Christmas trees naturally absorb CO2 and release oxygen, and also provide a habitat for wildlife whilst growing. An artificial Christmas tree of the same size made from plastic has a higher carbon footprint of about 40kg of CO2, over 10 times greater than a real tree – so it would take 10 years for an artificial tree to equal the carbon footprint of a real tree. 


But what’s the right choice of tree for you, and are there any health benefits from choosing a real tree rather than an artificial one? It’s worth considering how chemicals are used in the production of both real and artificial trees before making your choice.  

Christmas trees are sprayed with pesticides and herbicides 

Most trees are grown using pesticides and herbicides to keep weeds and pests at bay and to produce trees with strong foliage. Glyphosate is one of the most commonly herbicides in Christmas tree farming – it’s used to control the weeds that can damage growth and improve quality of the foliage. Glyphosate is classified by the WHO as “probably carcinogenic” to humans, though opinion remains divided about the health effects.


It is possible to reduce your exposure to the pesticides and herbicides used to culture Christmas trees. Source your tree locally and look for FSC certified trees grown responsibly with minimal pesticide use. When you take your tree home, leave it outside for as long as possible before bringing it indoors to decorate it – this will allow any pesticides or herbicides sprayed prior to tree harvesting more time to release. 

Plastic Christmas trees 

Most artificial trees are made using plastics and some metal. The most common plastic is PVC used for its flame retardancy because it burns at high temperatures, making plastic Christmas trees safer. PVC is often stabilised using phthalates widely thought to have endocrine disrupting properties. Chemicals used in the manufacturing process of all plastic items including Christmas trees are released slowly into ambient air in a process known as offgassing; this is intensified in warm rooms when tree lights are attached to trees, warming the plastic up.

Offgassing releases chemical substances into indoor air which can then be inhaled at low levels. To reduce this effect, ventilate your room whenever possible and stand the tree in a cooler spot. If you are buying a new Christmas tree, remove it from packaging and stand it outside or in a well-ventilated room or garage for as long as possible before using.  

Christmas trees with fewer chemicals – go organic & grow your own 

Organic trees are available, but because the growing process is very labour intensive (removing weeds manually and preventing pests) there are fewer outlets to buy them. It’s very easy to grow your own Christmas tree without using any chemicals. Christmas trees in pots are available in abundance this year and could make a nice long term project if you continue growing it on, re-potting it each year and bringing it back inside each Christmas. Alternatively, plant your tree outside in your garden and leave it there to flourish for years to come, decorating it with exterior lights.


More reading 

How Christmas trees are grown 

Christmas tree fun facts 

Organic Christmas trees 

Soil Association guidance 

Please note – none of the information links provided are recommendations. 

Lasting Health