O Christmas Tree: Fake or Real? Which Option is Better?

By Marilee Nelson |

featured image: O Christmas Tree: Fake or Real? Which Option is Better?
It’s the holiday season. By this point, many of you have selected the crown jewel of your home for the holidays - your beloved Christmas tree. Whether yours was packaged in a questionably small cardboard box or hand-picked and not-so-gracefully brought home on the top of the car, setting up the tree is undeniably one of the most exciting and anticipated family traditions in America. As society is becoming more and more aware of the environmental effects of our everyday choices, people are reconsidering what consequences may arise when choosing between a real or artificial tree for the holidays. This debate is a fun one to dispute (well, maybe just for us), but the reality is, there are benefits and downfalls of both. There are tons of misconceptions swirling around the controversial topic, and we thought we’d provide you with the facts you need to make an informed decision (for next year!). We’ll begin by dispelling a few of these popular misconceptions:

#1 "Artificial trees are better for the environment because you can use them over and over again.”

Let’s face it. It’s instinctive to think that the ability to reuse something immediately makes it the better choice as far as sustainability. Reduce, REUSE, recycle - for goodness sake, it’s the second word in the popular triple-R phrase. Little do most folks know, the depth of environmental impact caused by the use of an artificial Christmas tree happens long before you own the tree and arises again years down the road when it’s time to dispose of it. Consider all that goes in to getting an artificial tree on the shelf at the store. Most artificial trees are composed of PVC, which is one of the most “environmentally offensive” non-renewable plastics out there, containing high amounts of both lead and aluminum. This deems it non-recyclable, and if you wanted to dispose of it, it would take about 1,000 years to completely decompose. Yep, that’s three zeros. Along with the questionable makeup of the product, 85% of artificial trees are imported from China, making it necessary to account for pollution caused by not only production, but transportation as well. Last but not least, most fake trees use a considerable amount of packaging that contributes to the waste count. There’s a hint of truth to this misconception - reusing your artificial tree will reduce it’s negative environmental impact. But according to Carbon Trust, an artificial tree would have to be reused for at least ten Christmases to ensure its environmental impact is lower than that of a real tree. A ten-year-old Christmas tree accumulates a lot of dust.

#2 “If I get a real tree, I'm taking from the environment!”

Alright, we understand. Cutting down a tree never sounds beneficial to planet earth. But there are so many advantages to investing in a real tree that support Mother Nature, the local economy, and even your own home. First of all, be comforted in knowing that a lumberjack isn’t walking into the forest and hijacking a precious Fraser Fir just for you. Christmas tree farms exist so that stealing from forests doesn’t have to happen. These farms grow trees over the course of decades specifically for use as holiday trees. Like Phoebe says in that one episode of Friends, “you need to buy this tree so it can fulfill it’s Christmas destiny!”. Not only are you fulfilling these trees’ “Christmas destiny”, but you’re helping keep these tree farmers employed and the local U.S. economy thriving. Tree farming also keeps natural land from being developed into another suburb or shopping complex - as if we need more of those. The average sized Christmas tree can take about a decade to grow, which is another decade of the tree’s participation in the ecosystem, providing a home for wildlife during its growth.

#3 “Fake trees are less of a fire hazard.”

On a more serious note, it’s hugely important to note that both real and artificial trees are fire hazards to any home. As long as you practice caution and basic fire safety near your trees, risk can be minimized fairly easily, but many believe artificial trees are not as flammable as real trees. This is not true. Artificial trees are equally flammable and arguably more of a hazard, as setting them up and taking them down year after year can wear down pre-wrapped light strands, leaving wires exposed and posing a major electrical hazard. If you do own a pre-lit artificial tree, we recommend thoroughly checking the condition of light strands at the beginning and end of every season the tree is used. No matter what disagreements arise over this ongoing debate of real vs. fake, fire safety is universally important and we want all decorators to be safe!

Other considerations

The rest of the year. There’s no denying it - artificial trees can be bought once and used for several years afterwards, minimizing the yearly search for your holiday centerpiece. But consider what happens at the conclusion of the holidays and for the rest of the year beyond that: you manhandle your poor tree back into its box, while suffering a handful of battle wounds from being jabbed by metal branches, and stuff it in the most allusive storage spot of your house (back closet, corner of the garage, creepy backyard shed..?) where it will collect dust and take up useful square footage for the next eleven months. Then when Thanksgiving rolls back around and the kids/grandkids are over to help decorate, you pique the excitement by.. well, pulling out that dirty old bin again. Consider the memories that are made when taking a family trip to your local tree farm, or in some cases, your neighborhood Home Depot, and picking out THE tree as a unit. The anticipation, the laughter, the debate over which one looks best, and the victory ride back home when a verdict is finally made; it’s all part of the experience. Or in another case, having your local greenery supply company (this is our shameless plug) deliver the perfect tree straight to your doorstep or even installing it for you so that the excitement can remain without the additional hassle. Either way, investing in a real tree means having something different each year, making each Christmas memory unique in its own way.

Temporary life of a real tree. We’re cutting them down, so of course there will be an end to their beautiful, green lives. But after living their lives on the farm, creating oxygen, removing carbon from the air, and creating habitats for all the little critters, these trees remain entirely biodegradable. They will decompose quickly and safely in landfills without depositing harmful chemicals and into the air and soil, minimizing the amount of plastic in our country’s landfills. They can even be donated to be shredded into wood chips used for landscaping or construction! Overall, real trees require considerably less resources than a fake tree from the point of sowing to being displayed in your home. The effect of a real tree’s presence in your home. All statistics set aside, real trees simply look, smell, and feel amazing. Taking a piece of the natural world and bringing it into your home creates an organic and peaceful atmosphere in your home that guests will admire as they come in and out over the holidays. Yes, there will be some cleaning to do throughout the season (you may be picking needles out of your carpet for a few weeks post-New-Years) and you’ll need to consistently water it, but the few necessary chores that come with owning a real tree are totally worth the natural beauty it brings to your home. You may shape a real tree to fit exactly where it needs to but nothing will stop them from each being one-of-a-kind. Take pride in knowing no one else has the same tree as you! There will always be reason to choose one over the other, depending on your personal lifestyle and preferences, but best thing you can do is gather facts for yourself and be aware of the impact your choice is making. Both real and artificial trees can be lovely in your home, it’s just a matter of making it your own! Remember- you don’t have to go with the flow when it comes to decorating for Christmas. Let your kids (or yourself) go ham on the tree with mix-and-match ornaments and popcorn and multi-colored lights, or elect a color scheme and be as OCD as you want to be. Either way- you do you. Thank you to the entire Gracious Garlands team for sharing this insightful guest post! If you need any fresh greenery to celebrate the holiday, look no further than Gracious Garlands. They're made to order creations are a beautiful way to bring the spirit of the season into your home.

Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.