The Christmas Tree Dilemma: Real or Fake?

We weigh the pros and cons to help you decide.

By Emily Main


Ditch the toxic fake plastic trees and opt for the real deal this Christmas.The Pros and Cons of Fake Christmas Trees

Pros: They're cheap, reusable, and may even come conveniently predecorated.

Cons: All that budget decorating comes at a cost to the environment. Fake trees are made from the plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and the toxic chemical dioxin is released during PVC production. (By the way, in the event of a fire, the tree will burn and emit dioxin.) PCV contains hormone-disrupting plastic softeners called phthalates. And many fake trees have been found to be contaminated with lead. In fact, many of them come with a warning label advising you to wash your hands after handling them to prevent ingestion of the brain-damaging metal. Does that sound like something you want in your living room? And the plastic tree can't be recycled, should you decide to ditch it for a newer model. So it's going to and wind up in a landfill and stay there forever, barring some intervention from St. Nick.

What Should You Choose?

Go with…This. Real trees. Why pollute your Christmas with toxic plastics and hazardous heavy metals? The durability and convenience of fake Christmas trees may make them more attractive than the alternative of buying a new tree every year, but a life-cycle analysis conducted in Canada found that you'd need to use your fake tree for 20 years for it to be considered more
environmentally friendly than your yearly evergreen.

While it is true that real trees can pollute waterways with pesticides, the amount of pesticides used on tree farms has fallen substantially, according to surveys conducted by the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension. The amount used varies by tree species and the climate in which it's grown, but the researchers at NCSU's Cooperative Extension estimate that trees grown in North Carolina need only a quarter of an ounce of pesticide per tree over the course of the tree’s lifetime. They note that farmers in North Carolina, the country's second-largest Christmas tree producer, rely more on pesticide-free integrated pest-management techniques to reduce unwanted insects and weeds, for both health and environmental reasons. Find a tree farm that uses organic methods, of course, and the use of chemical pesticides is not an issue.

Plus, let's face it: You can't beat the smell of a fresh Christmas tree.