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

Christmas tree farm
WSU Extension agent Jim Freed (left) and a Christmas tree grower examine a noble fir. Photo: WSU Extension .

Every holiday season, there are debates about which is the more environmentally conscious choice: a real Christmas tree or an artificial Christmas tree. Let’s attempt to dispel some common myths about real trees.

Myth 1: Real trees are cut down from forests. Yes, the US Forest Service issues a small number of permits to cut wild trees but most of 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 usually grown as a crop – they even call them ‘Christmas tree farms’ – you are buying a harvested product grown for this purpose.

Myth 3: Real trees aggravate allergies. Pine tree allergy is relatively uncommon, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Myth 4: Fake trees are better because you can re-use them. At some point, a fake tree wears out and ends up in a landfill where it is not biodegradable.

   

Myth 5: Real trees are a fire safety hazard. 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 costs from $100 to $300 depending on height and quality. You’d have to use an artificial tree it well beyond its average length of ownership to break even.

Myth 7: Fake trees are fire proof.  Artificial trees advertised as “flame retardant” can resist flames for a period time, but when they do burn, they will emit significant heat and toxic smoke containing hydrogen chloride gas and dioxin.

Myth 8: Real trees have pesticides and chemicals on them. Tree farmers use chemicals only when needed and follow instructions by the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Agriculture, and Food and Drug Administration. Plastic trees can produce lead dust that can be harmful, especially to children.

Myth 9: Real trees end up in landfills. Natural trees are 100 percent biodegradable. Each year municipalities recycle millions of Christmas trees into mulch, chips, etc. Artificial trees made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a petroleum-derived plastic, do not biodegrade.

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. Yes, they do need to be watered each day, but what is a half of a minute between friends?

Myth 11: I can cut a tree on state lands. It’s illegal to cut trees from state trust lands. These trees need to grow to build future public schools in our state, as well as provide wildlife habitat and clean water and air.

Myth 12: No one cares if my tree is real or fake. What’s more fun? Picking out a fragrant, live tree with the family or battling your way to a crowded mall to buy a plastic replica of a tree.

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.

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