The Great Holiday Debate: Real vs. Artifical Trees

Reader Contribution by Karyn Wofford
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Photo by Fotolia

Christmas trees are a treasured tradition brought to America from Germany in the 1700’s. Believe it or not, the American Christmas Tree Association says that the very first Christmas trees in the states were relatively “artificial.” While still made with natural materials, wooden pyramids were constructed, then decorated with greenery and candles. This Holiday tradition started out as a mix of our distinctly separate preferences today; real trees and artificial ones.

Truly artificial trees came into play when Germany feared they were over harvesting their forests. Goose feathers and poles were used to create reusable versions, which were converted into the plastic variations in the US. 

The ACTA also states if a household uses an artificial Christmas tree longer than 4 years, their carbon footprint would be smaller than an identical household that cuts down a fresh one every year. Whichever you choose, a Christmas tree accounts for only .1% of a family’s annual carbon footprint.

 This does not settle the debate of which is better, there are other factors to consider. Each fact that comes into play may be specifically more significant to each unique individual. Let’s weigh it out.

Artificial Trees

PVC is a type of plastic made from chlorine and oil, and is a typical material in artificial trees. Chlorine makes PVC fire resistant.

When the plastic is heated, dangerous chemicals leak into the environment. Although the  plastic is hardened when you purchase a fake tree, traces of chemicals can seep out.

PVC is everywhere: water bottles, imitation leather, toys, furniture, you name it. Most of it ends up in landfills, and the plastic does not degrade well. Most artificial Christmas trees use PVC in some form, or a mixture of PVC and polyethylene, or PE. There are a few options that offer strongly reduced levels of PVC, such as Balsam Hill’s Balsam Fir model. Ikea also offers a PE Christmas tree in some areas of the country. Nearly Natural offers silk trees.  

Real Trees

Most trees come from a farm, meaning millions of people aren’t chopping them out of a forest without replanting. But running a farm does take resources, and so does transportation. 

Real trees can also contain mold and fungi that can be harmful to those with asthma or other lung issues. However, this can usually be resolved by a hose down and a few minutes in the sun before bringing it inside.

And last but not least, unless you buy organic, your farm fresh tree will likely be coated in pesticides, which can cause neurological issues, cancer and endocrine disruption. These chemicals can be breathed, ingested or absorbed through the skin, just like those from PVC. Some farms also spray trees down with a green coloring.

Another option does exist; living trees. Black Hill or Colorado Blue spruces are available in mini pots on Nature Hill’s site. Each tree has a complete root system with hopes that every owner will pant the tree after the holidays. It’s quite a notion, a new tree is grown every year rather than one being lost. Living Christmas offers a live tree rental service in California—simply set a delivery area, choose the type of tree you prefer, and the company will deliver the tree, in a pot, to your door. When you’re done, the tree can be picked up, and returned to the Living Christmas nursery.

Other options

If live trees aren’t a possibility for you, and you’re put off by PVC, it’s also possible to go unorthodox and get creative with your holiday decorations. Check out our project for a recycled newspaper Christmas tree, or this wooden version made from old shipping pallets:

The Verdict

It truly comes down to personal decision; you need to balance out what you think is most important. If you are lucky enough to have an organic tree farm around, I’d say that would be the best option if the farm also follows sustainable practices. Let us know which you choose and why.

Karyn Wofford is a type 1 diabetic, EMT and Certified Wellness Specialist. For years she has educated herself on wellness and natural, wholesome living. Karyn’s goal is to help people be the healthiest they can be while living fun, happy lives.