Toxic Christmas Trees, And Why Real Trees Aren’t Always Best

christmas tree oranments real v artificial

Toxic Christmas Trees

In 2019, over 26 million real Christmas trees were purchased, thirty-two percent coming from choose and cut-you-own farms. Real trees are a great alternative to plastic trees, which are often made of PCV, PEVA, or PET plastics, but they aren’t without issue.

In fact, real trees can also be problematic, especially for folks with mold sensitivity.

The Problem With Plastic Trees

While artificial trees are easier, less messy, and in the long-run, less expensive, they aren’t a good option from a toxic exposure perspective.

Artificial trees are typically made with PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which is extremely toxic and polluting to produce, can result in exposures to harmful chemicals when used, and are toxic to dispose of.

PVC is hard and rigid, so to make it soft, pliable, and moldable, softeners like lead and/or phthalates are added.

They are also often treated with flame retardant chemicals, which are endocrine-disrupting, and particularly harmful to the thyroid.

Some newer artificial trees are made with PET plastic or PEVA, which are both slightly less concerning than PVC, but still not ideal.

Real Trees Are Better (mostly)…

Real trees are a better option for many reasons but aren’t without problems.

There are over 100,000 acres devoted to Christmas tree farms in the Pacific Northwest alone, and tens of thousands of more acres in places like North Carolina, Alabama, and Michigan.

It takes 5-7 years for trees to mature enough to be sold, during which time they are hugely valuable from a carbon sequestration standpoint. The trees grown in the Pacific Northwest store more than 80,000 tons of CO2 annually, roughly equal to the emissions produced by 17,000 cars in a year!

But some of that benefit is offset by the fact that tree farms are heavy pesticide users – in particular atrazine, glyphosate, and chlorpyrifos – all highly toxic chemicals that are often contaminating waterways and even drinking water.

Although I wasn’t able to find recent data on this, back in 2016 it was estimated that only 1% of trees sold were organic, which means finding organic trees isn’t easy!

Obviously, we’re not eating Christmas trees, and I don’t believe there have been any direct studies about pesticide residues on trees that we might be exposed to, but if we’re buying from conventional tree farms, we’re supporting the use of polluting pesticides.

Looking for an organic tree in your area? has a directory or organic tree farms across the US!

Real Trees & Mold

I learned this the hard way last year: Christmas trees often have mold on them that can be hugely problematic for folks who are mold-sensitive.

Molds and fungus are a natural part of the ecosystem – when they are outside, naturally present on trees, they aren’t a problem. When we bring those trees into the closed spaces of our homes, they absolutely can be!

Last year I went to a local, no-spray Christmas tree farm to select and cut down my own tree. This is the first time I’ve actually had a tree in YEARS, so I was very excited, and even more excited to see how my cat Matcha would react to having a real-live tree to play under!

Within a few days of getting the tree, I broke out in a full-body rash that required a 10-day run of prednisone. I didn’t think it was the tree at first (it could have been something else), but then my cat, who was already dealing with GI inflammation and a gut issue developed asthma! Out of nowhere!  She also ended up on prednisone.

I got rid of the tree and both our symptoms never came back.

If you, your family, or clients are not mold sensitive, I wouldn’t worry about this at all. But for folks who ARE mold sensitive, or are dealing with mold-illness, I recommend skipping the tree!

Whether you celebrate the holidays with a tree or not, your clients or patients might, so being aware of the issues can be helpful!

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