fake Christmas trees or fresh Christmas trees

This or That: Christmas Trees—Real or Fake?

One smells great, but the other comes predecorated—and both can pollute. Which should you allow in your house this year?

By Emily Main


This or That: Christmas Trees—Real or Fake?

Do you see a Christmas tree massacre or sustainable holiday decorating?

'Tis the season to whip out the ornaments, popcorn strings and twinkly lights. But is all that going up on a fresh tree at your house or an artificial one? Whether it's the enviable smell of fresh pine or the convenience of a pre-decorated tree, both types have their ardent supporters. In fact, artificial trees are favored by 60 percent of the American public. Yet, both can expose you to harmful chemicals, and to some people, cutting down a tree just for a few weeks can feel wasteful. So which should you pick?

This: Fresh Christmas Trees

Pros: Few Christmas trees come from forests anymore. Virtually all of them are grown on plantations, and those plantations are located in all 50 states, making fresh Christmas trees easy to find locally. Buying real trees helps support small local farmers, and at the end of the holiday season, the trees can be mulched up and used to feed plants or find some other environmentally friendly purpose. In Louisiana, conservation groups use leftover Christmas trees to bolster coastal wetlands that have been eroded by hurricanes, and in Illinois, they are used to provide nesting habitats for herons.

Cons: Those real trees have real 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 damage human nervous systems.

That: Fake Christmas Trees
They're cheap, reusable, and may even come conveniently predecorated.

Cons: All that budget decorating comes at a cost to the environment. Fake trees are made from the plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and the toxic chemical dioxin is released during PVC production. (By the way, in the event of a fire, the tree will burn and emit dioxin.) PCV contains hormone-disrupting plastic softeners called phthalates. And many fake trees have been found to be contaminated with lead. In fact, many of them come with a warning label advising you to wash your hands after handling them to prevent ingestion of the brain-damaging metal. Does that sound like something you want in your living room? And the plastic tree can't be recycled, should you decide to ditch it for a newer model. So it's going to and wind up in a landfill and stay there forever, barring some intervention from St. Nick.

Published on: November 30, 2011
Updated on: December 6, 2012


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