Millions of households throughout the country will complete their festive décor with the iconic Christmas tree, dazzled with ornaments and a shining star on top. For some, getting a real Christmas tree is what the holiday is all about. But for 80 percent of Americans, fake trees are the clear choice, according to the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA). This number can be shocking, considering the traditional nature of real trees, but many just don’t want to deal with the upkeep during an already busy time.
But which is better? This depends entirely on who you are asking.
From an environmental perspective
People often feel that by reusing an artificial tree year after year, with many families using the same tree for a decade, that they are making an environmentally sound choice. The truth is, artificial trees are typically made from non-renewable polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a petroleum derived plastic that is known to be hazardous to the earth. Additionally, around 85% of fake trees are transported all the way from China, where environmental standards are not as stringent. As of late, there have been more eco-friendly trees hitting the market, so look out for brands that are made from injection-molded polyethylene (PE) and ensure the packaging states the tree is 100 percent PVC-free. Whether PVC or PE, however, artificial trees cannot be recycled, are not biodegradable and will ultimately make their way into a landfill.
But what about cutting down trees? Christmas trees are farmed, not taken from a forest. Farms typically adhere to sustainable practices, and are situated on land that is unsuitable for other crops. Seedlings are planted directly after a tree is removed; typically two-three seedlings for every tree cut down. On top of that, these tree farms emit oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, all while stabilizing the soil and providing shelter for wildlife. Perhaps most significant is how recyclable they are. After the holiday, trees are collected and fully recycled into mulch and wood chips.
From a health perspective
PVC is not only toxic to the environment, but to human health. PVC is considered the most toxic plastic out there. The chemical used to make PVC is called Vinyl chloride, and a simple internet search can reveal that this is a known carcinogen. Typically, lead and other additives are used in the making of fake Christmas trees as well. Studies shows that these additives can cause damage to the liver and kidney, as well as the reproductive and neurological systems. As you put the tree out year after year and the materials degrade, dangerous particulates may be released into the air. In addition, with the absence of the natural Christmas tree scent, many families will use sprays and candles, which are often made with more artificial ingredients. Real trees do not pose these threats, as they are 100 percent natural.
From an aesthetic perspective
This is where it gets a bit murky as far as which is best. Some would argue that the authenticity and true pine scent that fills the entire home makes a real tree more beautiful and special for all the senses. Those people may not be so bothered, then, by the pine needles that fall to the floor every single day and the water spills on the carpet from watering it. Others find the perfectly symmetrical, full and vibrantly green artificial trees to be more visually appealing and virtually hassle-free.
From a financial perspective
Many families see artificial trees as a great holiday investment. According to a survey conducted by Nielsen on behalf of the ACTA, consumers will, on average, pay around 80 dollars for an artificial Christmas tree. The poll on nearly 20,000 households also found that a real tree puts consumers back approximately $45 annually. It’s clear that, from a financial standpoint, artificial trees make more sense. They don’t require watering or yearly transport. Over a ten-year span – the average length of time consumers expect to keep a fake tree – only $80 will be spent. Meanwhile, those who go out to buy a real tree will drop about $450 over a ten-year span. However, the precious memories made when looking for that perfect Christmas tree with loved ones and hauling it home together can make every last dime worth it.