Christmas trees as carbon sinks

The holiday season is approaching fast, which, for many people, involves the purchase of a Christmas tree. But Christmas trees do not only make your home look more festive, they essentially act as carbon sinks in your own living room. 

A carbon sink, according to the IPCC, is a reservoir where the greenhouse gas CO₂ is stored (source). More broadly though, it’s any “process, activity or mechanism that removes a greenhouse gas from the atmosphere”. Trees are carbon sinks because they absorb CO₂: through photosynthesis, they convert carbon dioxide into biomass, i.e. the carbon dioxide is stored in tree trunks, branches, leaves and roots (source). It is estimated that over its 10-year life span, a Christmas tree accumulates around 18 kg of CO₂ (source). Even at home, your Christmas tree will continue absorbing CO₂ if you keep it alive and breathing. 

Christmas trees store CO₂, but… 

How much CO₂ is exactly stored by a Christmas tree depends on the tree species. Generally speaking, the more time a tree requires to grow until it reaches the desired size (which is 7-8 feet in America), the more carbon dioxide can it absorb. Spruce trees, for example, typically grow more slowly than other species (source). After slow food and slow fashion, could slow Christmas tree growing be the next big consumer trend? 

Regardless of how much CO₂ a tree will take up, the crux is ensuring that not all of the carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere once the festive season is over and you need to dispose of your tree. There are different ways of disposal (not all of them may be available to you). The environmentally friendliest way is to use a potted tree, which can be replanted and re-used every Christmas. If you need to dispose of it, burning it will release all CO₂ that was previously stored by the tree (source). The better option is to chip used Christmas trees and spread the mulch in your garden. This returns organic matter to the soil and can contribute to building soil carbon (source). The worst option is to dispose of it on a landfill because the tree decomposes and produces methane gas, which is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (source). 

Winter landscape

How Christmas trees and climate tech come together 

By absorbing CO₂ from the atmosphere while growing, trees are significantly contributing to fighting climate change because they remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Afforestation (large-scale tree plantations on areas where there was previously no forest (source) ) is therefore an important carbon removal solution.  

Yet, huge amounts of CO₂ need to be removed from the atmosphere every year if we want to keep global warming in check and planting trees alone will not be able to do this: afforestation cannot be scaled indefinitely, because it requires lots of water and surface area. Also, the permanence of the removed CO₂ cannot always be guaranteed with trees (source): as explained above, if you burn your used Christmas tree, the CO₂ it previously stored is fully released back into the atmosphere (source).

Technological solutions, such as Climeworks’ direct air capture, are a complementary but necessary approach to planting trees as they offer a more durable way of removing carbon. Direct air capture removes carbon dioxide from the air with machines. Due to its engineering approach, CO₂ removal via direct air capture is fully measurable and permanent. It is also highly scalable as it requires only a small physical footprint. Climeworks’ latest facility named “Orca” is able to nominally remove 4’000 tons of CO₂ from the air every year, on a land area of 0.42 acres. 

What does this mean? Let’s go back to our Christmas trees: Christmas tree farms are estimated to sequester around 0.809 tons of CO₂ per acre and per year (source). Orca thus removes almost 12’000 times more CO₂ than a Christmas tree farm on the same land area. This should only serve as a little mind game because obviously Christmas trees are not planted for the purpose of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

Take climate action this holiday season 

Climeworks’ carbon removal gifts, on the other hand, were exactly created for this purpose! This Christmas you can give your loved ones an eco-friendly gift, which is also a gift for the planet. With Climeworks, you can give the gift of carbon dioxide removal: just choose a package that suits your requirements best and we will permanently remove either 30kg, 50kg or 100kg of CO₂ from the air for your special person. Or in other words: we remove as much CO₂ as 1.6, 2.8 or 5.5 Christmas trees would absorb over its lifetime. Did you know, positive climate action can reach your employees or clients, too? Let’s inspire climate-positive action for the world this holiday season! 

The world’s most sustainable gift

Inspire your loved ones, employees or clients by giving them permanent and direct climate action with carbon dioxide removal.