It’s a real dilemma for environmentally conscious celebrators of Christmas – should I get a real Christmas tree or a fake one? How do you pick an eco friendly Christmas tree?
About 60% of Americans set up a fake Christmas tree each year. My family was one of them! I think my mother has been putting up the same fake tree for 30 years now. But is my mom on the right side of this issue? Let’s dig in.
Live Christmas Trees
Let’s first look at the live tree: Most live Christmas trees don’t come from the forest anymore, though there are some places where you can still chop down your own tree. Today’s Christmas trees are almost always grown on tree farms, or plantations. There are pros and cons to this type of agriculture. Some consider it a good thing because it enables you to support local business, you’re not doing any harm to the forest by removing a tree, and they’re pretty easy to find.
Conservation groups also use Christmas trees. In Louisiana, they’re used to bolster coastal wetlands. In Illinois, they’re utilized to provide nesting grounds for herons. The town I grew up in used our old Christmas trees as habitat for fish in the local lake.
But there’s a downside to the live tree as well. Like many farmed plants, they’re often grown with pesticides that are toxic to wildlife and, well, your family too. The EPA recently banned some pesticides for use on trees intended for indoor use.
Fake Christmas Trees
Of course, there are other options like the fake Christmas tree. The pros are pretty short. They’re cheap and reusable and you don’t really have to decorate them. Put ’em up, take ’em down, store ’em, easy.
While fake trees are awesome for convenience and saving money, they’re terrible for everything else. They’re made of PVC, which releases the chemical dioxin during production. If the tree catches on fire, it’ll emit that dioxin. They also contain hormone-disrupting phthalates and are contaminated with lead.
Bummer, right? It gets worse.
If you carefully read all of the reading material that comes with your fake tree, it’ll actually tell you to wash your hands after touching them so you don’t accidentally ingest brain-damaging chemicals. Is that something you really want in your living room?
Worst of all, when your fake tree craps out on you, you can’t recycle it. You have to send it to the dump where it will stay for all eternity, leeching its lovely lead and other chemicals into your ground water. Drink up!
What other options are there?
What my family has taken to doing is, instead of getting a live tree from a farm or a fake tree, we purchase a potted pine tree each winter to use as our Christmas tree. Then when the time comes, we find a place for it to be planted in the community. The holidays don’t have to mean fake plastic trees and trees being chopped down. We could plant trees too!
It’s also not hard to grow your own Christmas tree for use year after year. Check out our blog on how to do it.
At the end of the day, the real tree wins. Your fake tree, made overseas, does you no favors other than make the holiday season a little cheaper for you.
Your real tree, however, pumps money into your local economy, supports local farms, and can support local wildlife when the holidays are over.
But be conscious of where your tree comes from. Call the farm you’re thinking of getting it. Ask what pesticides they use if any. Ask if the trees are grown organically.