Have you got a Christmas tree yet? Let's talk price

Christmas tree
Photo: Sandra Seitamaa

Like the wacky family in your favourite Christmas movie, it's time to find the perfect Christmas tree!

But how do you choose? How much should you spend? And perhaps more importantly, should you go for a real or fake tree?

First, going local makes sense. Some community markets and scout groups charge between $75 and $150 for real trees, based on their size. This has always been a good place to start your holiday tree quest and it feels good to support local businesses.

In 2021 we also have a lot more choice, meaning you can actually buy directly from the source - the farm, a far more accessible option these days. This is great because there can be more types of trees on offer, a variety of sizes and of course price ranges.

For example, at the Dural farm in Sydney's west, $105 will get you a neat tree, but bigger ones are also available for $150 or $200 based on their height.

Many supermarkets sell trees too, though these are often smaller so they can shift more of them. I've seen supermarket prices at around $95 this year, which is decent for the convenience (these trees are often tightly bound in netting, so they're easy to transport).

Meanwhile, shops like Kmart and Target have a good festive range too, where $75 will score you a fake six-foot-evergreen, while $120 is about the price on an artificial seven-foot snowy pine. A synthetic woodland red berry tree can fetch for up to $200 and various trees with built in LED lights can go for a little bit more.

Okay, so prices aren't too dissimilar, leaving the question of what's best? Far be it from me to tell you - everyone creates their own traditions, of course. But I do love the look and feel of a real tree and, above all else, the smell that fills the living room. Now, I have come across a number of people who insist on the sustainability of buying fake trees. Unconvinced, I did a bit of research.

Real versus fake Christmas trees

In the US, for example, around 10 million artificial trees are purchased each holiday season and nearly 90 percent of them are shipped across the world from China, according to Nature.org, the site of a global conservancy body. This process results in an increase of carbon emissions and resources, which doesn't sound too good.

By contrast, it's argued that real trees are more sustainable because they suck up carbon dioxide and are compostable at the end of their use. And yet, things are still more complicated than that.

Greenpeace notes that Christmas tree farms can actually displace biodiverse natural ecosystems and there is some debate around whether trees absorb more carbon than they release in their first 20 years of life.

But before the pro-fake tree crowd gets a little too much aglow, let's not forget many of the artificial trees are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic that is said to pollute over its lifespan. They are also difficult to recycle and tend to go to landfill. 

So, to break the tie I defer to NASA. They might not work in foresting, sure, but they do know a thing or two about our atmosphere.

NASA says that most people think it's bad to cut a live holiday tree and that fake ones have a good rep because people feel if they reuse them, they're saving real trees.

But not so fast. Farmers grow Christmas trees over many years - noble pines, Douglas firs, blue spruces and the like - and during that time, the trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. In this way, they are cleaning the air and helping slow climate change, NASA says. 

So the cutting process seems to have some benefits, at least in this particular instance. There are also many programs now that grind up used trees into mulch to be put back into the land. A few green ticks there.

Lastly, it should be noted that tree farmers are a pretty savvy group. They know the environment is increasingly important to consumers and so they work to replace what they take out. It's really not unlike those among us who best manage their hard earned savings and Christmas shopping, eh?

Happy tree hunting!

And if you're looking to save some money this Christmas, look no further than our 5 ways to save on gifts this Christmas article.