Is a natural tree or an artificial tree more eco-friendly?

Real or fake?Every holiday season, there are debates about using a real Christmas tree or an artificial Christmas tree. The decision on what kind of tree to buy can be difficult, especially if you are searching for the perfect holiday experience while striving to be environmentally conscious.

An artificial tree can last for years while real trees must be replaced each year. But is that artificial tree really such an economical and environmentally friendly solution?

Let’s attempt to dispel some common myths about real trees.

Myth 1: Real trees are cut down from forests. While the US Forest Service allows a small number of permits to cut wild trees (to allow for fire breaks or thin planting units), the Christmas and other types of holiday trees you purchase are grown on farms just like any other agricultural crop.

Myth 2: You save forests by using a fake tree. Because real Christmas trees are grown as a crop – they even call them ‘Christmas tree farms’ – you are buying a harvested product grown for this purpose. Christmas tree growing also can be a way to make productive and sustainable use of low-quality agricultural land.  

Myth 3: Real trees aggravate allergies. Evergreen pollen is not a known allergen. Of the tens of thousands of tree species, fewer than 100 are known to cause allergies and only a few of these are conifers. Even if a tree was an aggravated allergies, it is unlikely to produce pollen in December in North America. If you are sensitive to allergies, it is not a bad idea to hose down your real tree before bringing it indoors because, of course, it could have collected dust and pollen while growing. Also, note if you are sensitive to these things anyway, a plastic tree over years will continue to collect dust and molds as well.

Myth 4: Fake trees are better because you can re-use them. At some point, a fake tree will end up in a landfill where it is not biodegradable. Most fake trees are used only six to nine years before being thrown away.

Myth 5: Real trees are a fire safety hazard. The reality is that the chance of a real tree being accidentally ignited is extremely rare. It is important to keep your tree freshly watered every day, use new lower heat LED lights if you can, and keep open flames away from them.

Myth 6: Real trees cost too much. In Washington, most locally grown trees cost between $20 and $45 while a plastic tree can cost anywhere from $100 to $300 depending on the height and quality. In Washington State, a well-proportioned, pre-cut noble fir can be found for around $25 at this time of year. If you spent $300 for an artificial tree that looked just as good, you’d have to use it for 12 years – well beyond the average length of ownership – to break even.

Myth 7: Fake trees are fire proof.  This truth is that plastic trees can catch fire, and when they do it isn’t a pleasant outcome. In 2004, the Farmington Hills Fire Department in metropolitan Detroit conducted a test of how real and artificial trees reacted in a house fire. The artificial tree, which was advertised as “flame retardant,” did resist the flames for an amount of time, but then was engulfed in flames and projected significant heat and toxic smoke containing hydrogen chloride gas and dioxin.

Myth 8: Real trees have pesticides and chemicals on them. Myths such as this often get a foothold due to a misunderstanding that many people have about agricultural practices. Chemicals are used by farmers only when needed and only according to the specified instructions of the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration. Studies show a potential health danger of lead dust coming from plastic trees.

Myth 9: Real trees end up in landfills. A natural tree is 100 percent biodegradable and each year municipalities recycle millions of Christmas trees into mulch, chips, etc. Artificial trees are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a petroleum-derived plastic that is non-renewable and does not biodegrade. Even if a natural tree does end up in a landfill, it breaks down quickly.

Myth 10: Real trees are a hassle and a mess. Yes, when you move the tree in and out of the house, you will need to vacuum. Hey, you probably needed to do it anyway, right? Yes, they do need to be watered each day, but what is a half of a minute between friends?

So, get the kids off the couch, go get some fresh air, and get a tree. And whatever you do, please don’t take trees from state trust lands. It’s illegal, and you would be stealing from future public schools of Washington.

Most real holiday trees are grown on family owned tree farms. Purchasing a real tree makes an important economic contribution to many rural communities in Washington.

Real trees are a renewable, recyclable natural resource. Plastic, artificial fake trees are none of these things (did we forget to mention the dioxins released into the atmosphere during the production of PVC for artificial Christmas trees or the carbon emissions released in shipping them from China where most are made?).

Go green this holiday season, support your local economy, and celebrate in style with a real tree. Find more infromation from the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association.

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