Those soft, supple needles that don’t shed aren’t so wonderful after all. You see, almost all artificial Christmas trees are made in China, and contain lead. Did you pick a model that is already lighted out of the box? Guess what, the amount of lead increases. Well, actually, most strings of Christmas tree lights contain toxic stuff anyway, but pre-lighted trees have lots of lead in the wiring.
Talk about the ghosts of Christmas past, each one spent around a fake Christmas tree could certainly come back to haunt you. Why worry about lead-based paint? Curious babes won’t hesitate to munch on O Tannenbaum and it’s baubles either. Lead is a contaminant that is most damaging to children.
Of course, instead of freaking out that you’ve filled the living room with horribly toxic stuff, you could just breathe a sigh of relief that it’s only a couple weeks out of the year, and there’s no known cases of people who have been maimed or killed from Christmas decor, except perhaps due to fire, which an artificial tree does reduce greatly the risk of, thanks to the fire retardant chemicals in use by tree manufacturers. But what if your tradition is to break out the tree on Thanksgiving weekend, and tear it down over New Years? That’s like 5 weeks of exposure, and if your tree was made years ago – it’s definitely shedding toxic dust as the PVC breaks down. The area where your tree stood will have alarming levels of lead deposits after you’ve taken it down. Dust that infiltrates the fibers of your carpeting. Some of which may be eradicated via vacuuming, but likely not all of it.
Wikipedia reports that this is only a problem with old artificial trees, stating that China has outlawed lead in PVC manufacturing. However, the ban is not set to become complete until 2015, and some manufacturers continue to have problems making PVC that does not use lead as a softener or stabilizer. So, it’s still 2015, and even a tree purchased this season could contain lead, because even though lead-based paints were supposedly outlawed there, we continue to have toys on store shelves found to contain lead. And many of the new realistic tip trees made from PE, or polyethylene, still contain PVC in the branches
So, why is it that you’ve got that artificial Christmas tree in the first place? Some 70% of Americans forego the real Christmas tree. Most of them do it for convenience, seeing the mess that taking a cut tree down presents just too much hassle to clean up. Some, however, think it’s more Earth-friendly to have a fake tree instead of a cut one. There’s an error in judgement. PVC and PE are both petroleum products, and China still generates power with coal. All that pollution in China might not be dimming the skies over your house, but it’s certainly not helping turn around climate change, while buying products made in China is dimming North American economical prospects by quite a bit.
In comparison, real Christmas trees are raised on farms. No one cuts trees in the forest anymore. You, the perfection hunting consumer wouldn’t pay for a forest-harvested tree anyway – it would not be thickly branched to the ground, and might only have one good side… definitely not a decorative presence. A Christmas tree farm is managed forestry, where every tree harvested is replaced with a seedling the following spring to keep production rolling. While each tree is growing to the desirable sizes, it is cleaning the air, and holding top soil in place, and a tree field isn’t bare soil – they mow between the trees. Replanting is done by digging a hole to remove the harvested tree’s stump to allow it’s replacement to thrive and reach the desirable size as fast as possible.
Concerned about pesticides on real Christmas trees? A tree farm is quite different from growing corn and tomatoes. Trees will only be sprayed if pests or disease threaten the crop, not on a continual basis like a food crop, but this can vary depending on the climate. The desire to turn over the crop faster has led to pushing the limits on annual growth by growing cold climate trees in a warmer climate, which will easily reduce it’s disease and pest resistance. But – any spraying is done in spring or summer, so very little pesticide will be left on the tree by harvest season in the fall. Some think that all Christmas tree farms use tons of chemical pesticides and fungicides, perhaps, but if you avoid purchasing your tree from big box stores, you’ll pretty safe from what goes on to protect that mega contract protection. Head for the traditional street-side tree lot vendor who is very unlikely to be part of the real Christmas tree factory situation, because that’s the “farmers market” for small Christmas tree growers.
Most small tree farms spray only when absolutely necessary, and only the trees that have pest or disease problems. There are also no-spray, and organic Christmas tree farms too. No matter where your tree came from, it takes years to grow what you buy. Evergreens only grow about 4-6 inches a year, sometimes 8 inches, but that’s pushing it for most conifer trees. So, a 6 foot tree took the farm 10-12 years to grow… remember that the next time you grumble about the cost of a nice sized tree, whether you’re planting it in your yard of decking it out with ornaments in the house.
Of course, if you live where Christmas trees just can’t be grown, there will be a lot of carbon miles from field to the vendor’s lot. But this is a once a year harvest and purchase, unlike that salad you fix for dinner several times a week. And what of the carbon miles clocked up by that toxic artificial Christmas tree of yours? China is on the other side of the world. Your tree arrived by ship on the East or West coast, and made it’s way to your local store via transport that used even more carbon energy. And its covered with stuff you’d never welcome in your home any other time of the year.
A real Christmas tree is far more human and Earth-friendly than any fake tree, no matter what country it was manufactured in. You’re not eating the tree, its a decoration that has a super-limited stay in the house. There is NO safe limit for lead exposure. It causes all manner of slowly debilitating health issues and disease. It’s a neurotoxin that affects the physical or mental health of humans of all ages. Just because there is no report pinpointing health decline to Chinese Christmas trees, doesn’t mean they have not contributed to disease overload.
Do not dispose of an old fake tree in the trash either. It will deposit lead in ground water. With tens of millions of artificial trees in use in the US, discarded ones will quickly fill up landfills with waste that may never go away. Dispose of old artificial trees at a recycling center.
No a real Christmas tree, on the other hand, can be composted, or turned into mulch to use in landscaping. It will break down and replenish the Earth, something no fake tree, no matter how much you paid for it, could ever accomplish, just as they did not do one bit of good to the environment. Real trees generate oxygen, and remove toxins from the air.
- National Geographic
- Plastic News
- Wikipedia (drawn from dated info)
- Soft Landing
- New York Times