Real vs artificial? 10 myths and our biased take on why real Christmas trees are better

Christmas tree on the curb. Photo: Steven Depolo/Creative Commons
Christmas tree on the curb. Photo: Steven Depolo/Creative Commons

Every holiday season, there are debates about which is the more environmentally conscious choice: a real or an artificial Christmas tree.

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. Yes, the U.S. Forest Service issues a small number of permits to cut wild trees, but most of the Christmas trees you purchase are grown on farms just like any other agricultural crop.

Myth 2: You save forests by using an artificial tree. Because real Christmas trees are usually grown as a crop – they even call them ‘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: Artificial trees are better because you can re-use them. At some point, an artificial tree wears out and ends up in a landfill where it is not biodegradable.

Myth 5: Real trees are a fire safety hazard. Not if you keep your tree freshly watered every day, use new lower-heat LED lights if you can, and keep open flames away.

Myth 6: Real trees cost too much. In Washington, most locally grown trees cost between $25 and $65 while a plastic tree costs from $100 to $300 depending on height and quality. You’d have to use an artificial tree well beyond its average length of ownership to break even.

Myth 7: Artificial trees are fire proof.  Artificial trees advertised as “flame retardant” can resist flames for a period of 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?

One thing you should know, is that it’s illegal to cut your real tree 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.

Instead, most real Christmas trees are grown on family-owned tree farms. When visiting a lot or a tree farm, your purchase makes an economic contribution to rural communities in Washington. Plus, picking out a fragrant, live tree with friends or family is a great family tradition.

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