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Real vs Fake Xmas Trees

Many people choose fake trees over real ones because they believe that plastic trees are better for the environment, but are they really the more eco-friendly option?

Fake trees are convenient and reusable. However, they’re made from PVC plastic, which creates a number of environmental problems. Production of PVC triggers the release of toxic chemicals such as dioxin, vinyl chloride, and ethylene dichloride, and additional chemicals that are used to make plastic trees more pliable have caused damage to the kidneys, livers, brains, and reproductive systems of laboratory animals.

Many fake trees contain lead, which can cause brain damage if ingested (this is why some fake trees have a warning label recommending that anyone who touches them wash their hands afterward). The Children’s Health Environmental Coalition has stated that fake trees may actually shed dangerous lead dust.

Another problem with fake trees is that most of them are made in China, often by workers forced to labor in unsafe conditions. These trees must then be shipped overseas at great cost to the environment in terms of carbon emissions. To make matters worse, plastic trees can’t even be recycled, so they end up in landfills.

Fake trees’ lack of environmental friendliness was illustrated by a comparative life-cycle analysis, which found that a fake tree would have to be used for 20 years to be more eco-friendly than 20 real trees. Most people use their fake trees for just 6 to 10 years, but keeping them for longer is not recommended because their toxins grow more dangerous over time.

Real Christmas trees are rarely obtained from forests these days. They’re typically grown locally on plantations at small farms.

Purchasing them benefits local farmers and after Christmas, the trees can be turned into mulch or compost, fed to animals such as goats, or used for other eco-friendly purposes. In some cases, it’s even possible to keep a live decorated tree in a pot and then replant it outdoors after Christmas.

However, trees are dormant in the cold; bringing them indoors where it’s warm can trick them into thinking that it’s spring, which means that they’ll start growing again and may die when moved back out into the winter chill.

For this reason, if you’re planning to replant a live tree, don’t keep it indoors for more than a week. If you choose this option, buy a tree that was grown in a pot – trees ripped out of the ground and placed in pots don’t usually do as well as those that have spent their whole lives in pots. It’s also a good idea to skip the Christmas tree lights or use LED lights, which give off less heat, as hot lights can dry the tree out.

Now that real trees are no longer taken from the forest, their only significant environmental drawback is that many growers rely on toxic pesticides, though an increasingly large number of growers are now using organic methods.

Even when pesticides are used, given the hazards and environmental damage associated with fake trees, most environmental advocates recommend using real trees rather than plastic ones.

Real vs Fake Christmas Trees: Which Type of Christmas Tree is Better for Your Health and the Environment?EarthTalk, About.com, n.d.
Magnuson, D, “Real vs. Fake, Christmas Edition,” UTNE Reader, 29 November 2011.
Main, E., “This or That: Christmas Trees—Real or Fake?Rodale, n.d.
Wallop, H., “Christmas trees in pots ‘bad value’ says Which?The Telegraph, 2 December 2009.

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