Those fake pines aren’t as green as you think

Molly Halasey, Staff Reporter

If your household celebrates Christmas in the United States, you are likely to be among the 80% of Christmas tree-consumers investing in an artificial tree this year. The financial advantage is a popular reason to skip the real tree, assuming you’ll use it more than once, but many Americans purchase a PVC pine under the false pretense of being environmentally conscious. After all, isn’t using one fake tree for five years better than cutting down five living ones?

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Most artificial trees contain polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which means that the manufacturing of them produces carcinogens from start to finish. Elliposos, a Montreal-based environmental consulting firm, found that in order for the waste of creating an artificial tree to be less than harvesting a real tree every year, you would need to keep your artificial tree for 20 years. However, The American Christmas Tree Association, a primary trade group for artificial tree producers, conducted its own study where they deduced that it would take 10 years of reuse before a fake tree becomes more environmentally-friendly than a real one. Either way, you should keep in mind that the average lifespan for an artificial tree is just 6 years.

After the six years of annual, festive use, the artificial trees will clutter landfills where they will take roughly 500 years to decay.  During those centuries of slow disposal, lead, arsenic and petroleum byproducts are constantly poisoning the soil and water systems.


Not only are they bad for the environment, but a 2002 study conducted at the University of North Carolina suggests that the 3 out of 4 Christmas trees that contain lead could eventually break down into lead dust, release into the air, and poison anyone who inhales the deadly substance.


In contrast, most natural Christmas trees are grown specifically to be cut down, and the 6-8 years they’re waiting to be harvested they are performing photosynthesis and providing refuge for wildlife. After their month of use, they can be recycled to make mulch for the upcoming spring, and if not, their organic material is biodegradable.


In addition, HortTechnology found that real Christmas trees have health benefits for those who aren’t allergic, from lowering anxiety to lowering chances of catching the flu.

Fake Christmas trees are an affordable alternative for those allergic to the real thing, but are far from being more environmentally friendly. Instead, maybe this year you save enough money to make a trip to a local Christmas tree farm, or if that’s off the table, perhaps you support a local artist who creates reusable Christmas trees out of recycled material.

This year while celebrating the holidays and preparing for the new year, spare a minute to think about actions you can take to lower carbon emissions on a daily basis. In the words of Christine Lagarde, “Tackling climate change is a collective endeavor, it means collective accountability and it’s not too late.”