Christmas Trees: Real vs. Fake


Chances are, your decision to get a real tree or set up a pre-fab model every Christmas season is probably based on what your family did when you were growing up.

You may have a deep attachment to the smell of a real tree or maybe you love being able to set up your fake tree in mid-November and keep it up until well into the new year.

Maybe you’re thinking about making a change, though. You may have concerns about the environment or your family’s health, or maybe you just want to make a change for convenience’ sake.


The ‘Real’ Deal:

Some people think that cutting down a real tree for Christmas is harmful to the environment because of the importance of trees for our air.

The vast majority of Christmas trees come from tree farms though and the net result of Christmas tree farming is more trees, not fewer. Every tree is replaced with three more and each tree lives for 6-9 years, absorbing carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen through all those years.

What may be a concern is the use of pesticides. Like most farmers, Christmas tree farmers want to protect their crops from pests that can harm them and cut into their profits.

When you bring a real tree into your home, you’re probably bringing pesticides in with it.

These pesticides aren’t just harmful to pests, as Emaily Main at points out:

Those real trees have pest problems and are usually grown with pesticides that are toxic to wildlife and, in some cases, to people. The most commonly used pesticide is Roundup, which is toxic to some birds and fish and was recently discovered to be toxic to human cells due to all the inert ingredients used. The Environmental Protection Agency has banned indoor use of some of the pesticides used on Christmas trees, such as chlorpyrifos and malathion, which can cause damage to human nervous systems.

There is no organic certification for Christmas trees, but many farms avoid pesticides in part or altogether. Call your local tree farm ahead and ask.

There are also concerns about mold spores in your home that are brought in on the tree. For those with allergies or sensitivities, this could cause an immediate problem. Mold is not good for your respiratory system and can cause problems for your entire household in the long run.

Run an air purifier in the same room where you have your tree set up, especially if you have allergies. Some people also hose the tree down before bringing it inside, washing down the trunk with a dilute bleach and water solution. Let it dry thoroughly in the sun before bringing it in if you decide to go this route.


The Fake Shake-Down

Some people consider artificial trees to be a smart choice because you can buy one tree that can be reused for years. Plus, you don’t have to deal with the mess of needles all over your carpet.

You might think that you’re doing the environment a solid by choosing a plastic tree, but artificial trees are much worse for the environment than any real tree.

Fake trees are not recyclable, so they sit in landfills when you eventually throw them away. When they are burned in incinerators (used by many cities to deal with garbage), they emit harmful toxins and chemicals.

Not only can a fake tree be bad for the environment, it can also be seriously harmful to your health.

Kimberly Crandell at Science20 explains:

Artificial trees are manufactured using a polyvinyl chloride (or PVC), which is a petroleum-derived plastic. The raw material for fake Christmas trees is both non-renewable and polluting. Furthermore, PVC production results in the unhealthy emission of a number of carcinogens, such as dioxin, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride.

This is a major concern for your family, because while your tree is lit up and looking gorgeous, it’s off-gassing those harmful chemicals into the air you and your family are breathing in.

To make the color of the trees more realistic, many manufacturers add lead to the PVC.

Lead has been linked to respiratory, neurological, liver and kidney damage and is a known carcinogen. This is hardly the kind of thing you would expect to find on something as friendly as a Christmas tree. Most people don’t even realize it’s a concern.

The lead gets into your air, just like the PVC emissions. When your house is all closed up against the cold you keep those toxins trapped inside even longer.

There is no safe level of lead exposure for children.

There are companies making less toxic artificial trees made of polyethylene rather than PVC. has a post called How to Find a Non-Toxic Christmas Tree that you might want to check out.

Also, check out Pinterest for alternative tree options, such as building a wooden tree, stacking books to create one, or simply hanging Christmas ornaments from the ceiling in the shape of a tree. There are lots of creative options out there.

If you’re at all concerned for the environment you really can’t make a case for an artificial tree over a real one.

However, if allergies, space concerns, condo bylaws or anything else truly prevents you from going with the real thing, it’s worth investing some time and money into getting an artificial tree that won’t spread toxins along with holiday cheer.


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