How “green” is your Christmas tree?

It’s the holiday season, and for a large number of Americans — including many of us here at LCA — that means it’s time to put up a Christmas tree. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, between 25 million and 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. each year. On the other hand,  The Daily Green says 70 percent of Americans choose to use an artificial tree.

So what’s the most sustainable option?

While an artificial tree might seem like the answer, the products they’re produced with make them anything but “green.” From dangerous polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to lead, most artificial trees contain a cocktail of chemicals that will dampen anyone’s Christmas spirit. The risks posed by a fake tree are even higher for children, according to Healthy Child Healthy World:

“Trees may shed lead-laced dust, which may cover branches or shower gifts and the floor below the tree.”

That’s not to say a real Christmas tree doesn’t have risks. Over their growing cycles, they’re usually treated numerous times with fertilizer and pesticides. As we’ve written before, contaminated runoff from this process can wreak havoc on watersheds if it’s not managed properly. And the chemicals can stay in the tree, rubbing off onto your skin when you come in contact with it. Finally, there’s the problem of disposal: They should be sent to a compost or mulching center instead of clogging up landfills.

Most environmental experts agree that the best bet is a live, potted tree that can be replanted after Christmas. The next best alternative is a tree from an organic farm. Locally grown trees have benefits, too, as they don’t have to be shipped long distances (thus using less fuel) and each purchase helps the local economy to grow. To be on the safe side, when you handle it or decorate it, wear gloves to minimize contact with any residual chemicals.

While we’re on the subject of a “green” Christmas, we’d be remiss not to mention holiday lights: Healthy Child Healthy World states that many strings of lights contain PVC and lead. Their advice:

  • Do not allow children to handle holiday lights!
  • Adults should wash hands thoroughly after handling the lights.
  •  Avoid lights made in China and other foreign countries, where there are no restrictions against the use of lead in consumer products. Lights made in the U.S. are likely to contain smaller amounts of lead, especially in the coating. 
  • Do not assume that holiday lights that do not bear the warning label are lead-free. It is possible that the lights are not sold in California. California is the only state that requires the warning label.
  • Older lights that have not been labeled may also contain lead.

Do you have a tip for a “green” holiday that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments section below, or on our Facebook page!