10 Holiday Controversies

Real Tree or Fake?
Wylds Farm in Hampshire, England, allows members of the public to choose and cut their own Christmas trees, just like this family is doing. Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Oh, Tannenbaum! You cause so many kerfuffles. Should we call you a Christmas tree, a holiday tree or a giving tree? And after that's settled, should you be real or artificial? Which is better for the environment?

Real trees have a great piney smell (at least for the first week). But they tend to get dry and brittle and shed messy pine needles as time goes on. Only 2 percent of Christmas tree buyers still cut down trees from forests, but until the 1940s, forest depletion was a real concern [source: Lee]. Now, most people get their trees from Christmas tree farms. However, these trees have usually been sprayed with pesticides that can harm birds and possibly humans. Also, throwing the trees out at the end of the month adds to the garbage problem — unless you recycle them.

Fake trees have the advantage of being reusable every year and requiring less hassle to set up and take down — plus no shedding. But they're usually made of the plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which releases the chemical dioxin during production. And many fake trees have been found to be contaminated with lead, which has been linked to organ damage in animals. Plus, the manufacturing and transporting of so many plastic trees from China leaves a large carbon footprint. Further, they can't be recycled [sources: Main, Lee].

One scientific study found little difference between the two as far as environmental impact, but said artificial trees were slightly worse [source: ZME Science]. An expert advises that the greenest options are buying a potted Christmas tree that you can replant later or renting a potted tree that can be returned to the farm after the holidays [source: Lee].