The dispute over natural vs artificial trees continues

Real Christmas trees are a renewable resource. Is your artificial tree? Photo DNR
Real Christmas trees are a renewable resource. Photo/DNR

Every holiday season there are debates about which is the better choice – a real or artificial Christmas tree.

As an agency that leases land to tree farmers, manages the state’s urban forestry program, and employs a good number of foresters, we may be a bit biased. Still, here’s our attempt to keep you informed and dispel some common myths around the topic.

Myth 1: You save forests by using a fake tree. Yes, the U.S. 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. 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 2: Real trees aggravate allergies. A pine tree allergy is relatively uncommon, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and real trees clean pollutants from the air as they grow.

Myth 3: Fake trees are fireproof.  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. Take care no matter which tree you choose.

Myth 4: Real trees are a fire safety hazard. To minimize your risk, keep your tree freshly watered every day, use new lower-heat LED lights if you can, keep open flames away and dispose of the tree before the needles become brittle.

Myth 5: Fake trees are better because you can reuse them. Each year, municipalities reuse millions of real Christmas trees as mulch or wood chips. Natural trees are also 100 percent biodegradable. At some point, a fake tree wears out and ends up in a landfill (they aren’t recyclable or biodegradable).

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’ll have to use an artificial tree many years to break even. In any case, buying your tree locally helps support the fiscal health of your community.

Myth 7: Real trees have pesticides and chemicals on them. Tree farmers use chemicals only when needed and follow instructions made by the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Food and Drug Administration. Plastic trees crafted outside of the United States may not have similar oversight. Know that lead dust from artificial trees can be harmful, especially to children.

Myth 8: Real trees are a hassle and a mess. Yes, they do need to be watered each day, but what is a half of a minute between friends? 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. Plus, what says “clean” better than the scent of a fresh tree?

Myth 9: I can cut a tree on state lands. No, 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 10: No one cares if my tree is real or fake. Which sounds like more fun – picking out a fragrant, live tree with friends and family or waiting in a checkout line to buy a plastic replica of a tree? And, since most real holiday trees are grown on family-owned tree farms, purchasing a real tree makes an important economic contribution that matters to many rural Washington communities.

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