The Best Artificial Christmas Trees

- and the green Christmas tree debate

Which are the best artificial Christmas trees to buy? And can they really be considered as a "green" choice?

This guest article sets out some of the arguments for artificial plastic trees.

Article on the best artificial Christmas trees with thanks to

Picture: GKI Bethlehem lighting tree from Amazon.

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Real versus artificial

This is a long-running debate regarding Christmas trees, with one side coming up with a reason to use their preference at every turn.

Five years ago was the last time we had a real tree. Our cat is not the smartest kitty, and something about the smell of our tree was so enticing to her that she began to chew on it. This caused a rush to the vet, a sick kitty, and an artificial Christmas tree that same year.

Starting as a protest for deforestation in the country, artificial Christmas trees were developed in the 19th century in Germany. They became so popular, that the use of artificial trees reached our shores in the United States even before the natural trees were considered as home holiday decoration. These trees were made of dyed goose feathers, which evolved to wooden, pyramid shaped-trees lit by candles. They were first used in the country in the town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

By the 1930s, feathers had given way to brush bristles. The Addis Brush Company crafted artificial Christmas trees with the same brush material they used for their toilet brushes. These trees offered advantages over feather trees and became very popular, as they could withstand heavier ornaments and were less flammable than their predecessors. They were even exported to Great Britain and received a warm reception.

Aluminum was also used to manufacture trees, starting in 1958 in Chicago. This type of artificial tree was mainly metallic silver, and was illuminated by a color wheel at the foot of the tree to shine different colors onto the tree branches.

The most popular form of the artificial Christmas tree is still the plastic Christmas tree, made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and sometimes Polyethylene terephthalate (PET). These fire retardant trees are usually manufactured in China and imported to the United States.

Varieties differ from the realistic to the funky, with some artificial trees coming pre-strung with lights. Artificial trees received quite a jump in popularity in the late 20th century, due to their convenience in use and price. In 1992, a survey showed that almost half of American households used an artificial tree, with 46 percent going artificial. From 2001 to 2007, sales from artificial trees more than doubled, from 7.7 million to 17.4 million dollars.

Personally, I advocate the use of artificial trees for the following reasons:

  • Don't require much cleanup. The best artificial Christmas trees do not shed, and don't need constant maintenance. Real trees often shed needles that need to be swept each day.
  • Are not riddled with pesticides. Real Christmas trees from commercial lots are sprayed with pesticides to prevent needle damage and keep the tree in beautiful, pristine condition.
  • Are reusable. I have to admit, I can be a bit lazy. Every year I store my artificial Christmas tree almost fully decorated in the bag it came in, dust it off the next year, and set it down on the living room as is. How's that for recycling?
  • Are durable. With two kids, a cat, and a husband as clumsy as I am, there have been accidents and slip ups near the tree or on it, and with each ding and bruise, our tree bounces back.

The green Christmas tree debate

I know what you're thinking - plastic is really unrecyclable and the manufacture and transport of these artificial trees are harming the environment. I understand that, but there are other green factors that quickly add up:

  1. 1 artificial tree replaces the 20 real trees you would have purchased.
  2. Each year, millions of trees are cut down to last a month in your home. A high-quality artificial Christmas tree can last 20 or more years, and can save all those trees from being cut in their stead.

  3. They don't use pesticides.
  4. Making sure that real trees are looking their best, pesticides are sprayed onto the trees and the soil that grows them. The accumulation of these chemicals is not safe. They are brought into your home, and many people have allergic reactions to not only the sap on a tree, but also to the pesticides.

  5. They are less of a fire hazard.
  6. Some apartment buildings have actually banned real trees from being used, because when real trees dry out, they become more and more of a fire hazard. Artificial trees are sprayed with a fire retardant material that will most likely not start a fire when a spark builds from electrical devices. Some varieties even come pre-lit, so there is no danger of setting up the Christmas lights wrong and causing an even bigger chance of fire.

  7. They are non-allergenic.
  8. People who suffer from allergies won't have a sneezing fit around your tree, as there aren't any materials in the best artificial Christmas trees to set them off. It keeps the kids from having to bring out the inhaler, too

Artificial trees can really become part of your Christmas tradition if you choose. With an educated purchase and good care, the best artificial Christmas trees can be passed on to the next generation while looking like they came fresh from the box yesterday. I have become pro artificial Christmas tree; with all the advantages my tree offers, and I am proud to have one.


Isabella York is a working mother who, along with raising her son, works for Balsam Hill, a purveyor of Artificial Christmas Trees and Christmas Trees.



Circumstances alter cases

I think Isabella makes a good case for buying a quality artificial tree.

Personally, I believe that a real tree or fresh branches make the most effective Christmas display. This can be a very green choice, especially if local and organic trees are used and suitable recycling is carried out if the tree cannot be re-planted.

However, I recognise that these options are not open to everybody and for some people an artificial tree may be the best overall solution.

Certainly, if you opt for an artificial tree it makes good sense to buy something durable and long-lasting which can be recycled effectively. PVC can generally be recycled.

There are now some good pages on other sites on green recycling. Please see the education and recycling sections on my Green Links page.

On a safety note, there have been concerns that some imported plastic trees may contain unacceptable levels of lead. The best artificial Christmas trees should ideally be made somewhere relatively close to home, so that transport does not add a significant carbon footprint.

Some of the best artificial Christmas trees are quite pricey. I've added a couple of alternatives in the right hand side bar - one a USB plug-in mini-tree and another which is made from pine cones. They seem relatively sustainable but you'll have to do your own due diligence and form your own conclusions. Maybe hand crafting your own artificial tree is the best and most fun option! Can't say I've got there yet...


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