Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Christmas Tree Debate - Real or Artificial?

We buy a real tree every year, and I've always wondered what the greenest option is...real or fake? Last year I did some digging around to find out. I came across this article on the daily green, and it had some great points for consideration.

Most Christmas trees are now raised on established farms, meaning deforestation isn't an issue, but they must be shipped, often from long distances. They do require pesticides and fueled vehicles to maintain, and may end up taking up space in landfills.

On the other hand, most artificial Christmas trees are made in China, typically from oil-derived, pollution-releasing polyvinyl chloride (PVC). A number have been found to contain lead. Once finally disposed of, artificial trees will last for centuries in landfills. These days, roughly 70% of Americans choose artificial.

There is no real definitive answer, but they had some good suggestions for making your choice greener:

Going with an artificial tree?
Then try to find one made in the U.S., which greatly decreases the chances for contamination with lead or other toxins, preserves domestic manufacturing jobs and reduces shipping.

Going with a real tree? Try to choose something locally and organically grown. You'll cut down on CO2 emissions and help prevent the environmental degradation wrought by pesticides on big conventional operations. You can search for local Christmas Tree farms here.

If your kids have asthma and allergies, there are other factors to consider. This year our live tree caused Rowan to have an asthma attack and she had to go to Urgent Care for breathing treatments and steroids. It's not the tree that most kids have problems with, it's the mold that thrives on the branches. Connecticut researchers found that the mold count from a live Christmas tree rose to five times the normal level two weeks after the tree was brought indoors, and that can prove problematic for people with mold allergies. Read the rest of the article: Live Christmas Trees Can Trigger Mold Allergies.

Because we were forced to ditch our real tree and buy an artificial one, I did some more research on artificial trees made in China. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, most fake trees (85%) in the U.S. are imported from China. Almost 10 Million fake trees were sold worldwide in 2003. The potential for lead poisoning is great enough that fake trees made in China are required by California Prop 65 to have a warning label.

I didn't think it would be too hard to find an artificial tree made in the US, but I couldn't find any in local stores, and there were only one or two companies that sold them online. We ended up ordering ours from US Christmas Tree. It was pricey, but it I love that it's made from 100% lead-free recycled plastic. I'll miss the smell of a real tree, but I'll feel better knowing that our girls breathing won't be affected.