I love this time of year with holiday decorating. My family cranks up the holiday music and spends hours decorating the house. My five-year-old continues to “rearrange” all the way through the New Year. ?
But wait. Before you buy an artificial tree, read this article. Many people opt for an artificial tree because their allergist told them that real Christmas trees may irritate their allergies. From the ancestral health perspective, it’s highly unlikely humans are allergic to nature. If a real tree irritates your allergies, that points more towards systematic inflammation and a compromised gut. My goal as a clinician is to help all clients return to a place of not being irritated by nature (grass, trees, etc).
Others prefer an artificial tree to avoid the messy needles falling. To that I write, teach your children how to sweep. Or get a robot that is happy to help.
Others argue that cutting down a real Christmas tree damages the environment. I’d much rather see a conventional field of glyphosate-ridden corn and soy convert to a Christmas tree farm. Any day. I personally know a few farmers who have beautiful, biodynamic Christmas tree farms. And that farm serves as their livelihood.
This article addresses two main education pieces about artificial Christmas trees (and garland, wreaths, etc):
- The risk they pose to human health
- The risk they pose to the environment
At the end, I will share action steps towards establishing a new family ritual of picking out a real tree. Or if you still prefer an artificial Christmas tree after reading this, I provided a resource for you at the end of this article.
Ever wonder what an artificial Christmas tree is?
In one word: plastic.
An artificial Christmas tree is plastic and manufactured in a chemically-driven factory (usually in China).
What goes into this process?
- PVC (vinyl) – during the production phase, PVC releases dioxins into the environment. Dioxins are linked to a range of health issues including cancer, birth defects, endometriosis, autoimmune disease, diabetes, and early puberty. The environmental contaminant ends up in ground water, animals we consume, and more. Once we consume this toxin, it collects in our fatty tissue. Additionally, once in your home PVC releases VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are not only linked to allergies, but they are also endocrine disruptors and carcinogenic.
- Lead – PVC trees are usually mixed with lead to stabilize the PVC (especially if the tree is manufactured abroad). Lead is a well-known neurotoxin that is especially dangerous for children. The CDC states that lead dust as small as a grain of sand can poison a child. Therefore, this lead dust sprinkling itself around the home is not the same as fairy pixie dust. Children should never touch a PVC/lead tree, and parents should never vacuum under that tree. Most families do not know their tree contains lead because California is the only state that requires a warning (1).
- Flame Retardants – Once upon a time, people with good intent decided items inside the home should be fire-proof. This led to industrial manufacturing coming to the rescue. Enter the “dipping” of almost every item in your home before arriving to the store, including televisions and most home furnishings. But these chemicals, called flame retardants, have unintended consequences. Not only do these consequences include endocrine disruption (like hypothyroidism and infertility), but researchers from Oregon State University found a significant relationship between social behaviors among children and their exposure to widely used flame retardants. “When we analyzed behavior assessments and exposure levels, we observed that the children who had more exposure to certain types of the flame retardant were more likely to exhibit externalizing behaviors such as aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying,” said epidemiologist Molly Kile (2).
Steps towards a healthier indoor home:
- Switch to a real Christmas tree.
Call around and see if you can source a tree that has not been sprayed with pesticides during its life cycle. If you cannot find such transparency, it’s still safer to go the real tree route when compared to the artificial tree.
- Minimize dust accumulation in your home.
Think of children with dusting mittens cleaning for you while you sip tea buried in your favorite book. Why keep the house extra dust-free? If the tree was sprayed, those pesticide residues LOVE attaching themselves to dust in your home.That dust then gets all over the humans in the home, causing chemicals to be either breathed in or absorbed through the skin.
- Open the windows!
Yes, I am aware that it’s cold outside. But one of the best ways to clean indoor air is with a quick “air out” session. We will turn off our HVAC, open all the windows, and put a couple of outtake fans in windows to initiate circulation. We air out the house for 5-10 minutes (depending on how cold it is outside). I recommend doing this at least once a week.
*Side note – sleeping with your window cracked at night is a terrific way to detox chemical exposure during sleep. We are a species of nature designed to be outside, even when we sleep. This practice mimics ancestral patterns, and you will notice a positive improvement in your health quickly once adopted.
- Be extra safe in your home to avoid risk of fires
Avoid the use of candles in the home unless you are around them. (*Side note – candles, unless made from beeswax, are toxic for your home.) Supervise children around the tree. They tend to love playing with lights. Turn off your illuminated tree at night or when you are not home. Read more on the Christmas Tree Association’s website: https://www.christmastreeassociation.org/fire-safety-tips-for-your-christmas-tree/
- If you still prefer an artificial tree, shop USA-made only.
What about the environmental impact of a real tree?
I’m actually not sure why this even comes up in conversation when we are comparing a non-biodegradable plastic to a biodegradable tree. Christmas tree farms use their land to plant fast-growing conifer trees. Some of these farms are organic or biodynamic. Some are not. Just like any other farm (but you still eat, right?). Gone are the days of chopping down an actual forest for our indoor holiday pleasure. We have much bigger problems on our hands with regards to deforestation (think neighborhoods popping up all over, shopping plazas, etc).
Plastic will always be plastic. Therefore, my children will keep stepping on that plastic when they play at the beach. Wildlife will keep being harmed by that plastic. Plastic is baaaad news. Read more: https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2018/09/10/the-worlds-largest-ocean-cleanup-has-officially-begun/#312d93fb2738
What do we need to see in the artificial tree industry to make them safer (if plastic trees are here to stay regardless)?
A conversion to PE (polyethylene) trees. While this is still a plastic, and all plastics lead to the ocean or land fill, this form of plastic does not need lead as a stabilizer. PE plastic can be recycled (this is a large carbon footprint operation), but at the end of the day, it’s still plastic.
I hope this article helps you on your Switch to Safer journey. Thank you for allowing me to help you on your healing journey.