Lynn Youngblood: Real Christmas trees better for environment

The Examiner
Lynn Youngblood

Editor’s note: This column by Lynn Youngblood has previously run in The Examiner.

It happened again. A friend proclaimed that they never cut a live Christmas tree because they didn’t like the idea of cutting trees – bad for the environment, you know.

Actually, the most environmentally friendly thing you can do is purchase a live Christmas tree, and the reasons are many. Christmas trees are planted and grown just to be harvested.

Christmas tree farms take up space, often on the outskirts of town, putting land into useful production that is often threatened by urbanization and development. Tree farms support complex ecosystems including providing habitats for wildlife. While trees are growing, foxes, raccoons and other critters find a place to live and raise young.

Christmas trees themselves are the perfect places for nesting birds. Christmas tree farms also boost the local economy by providing jobs to people who help keep the trees trimmed, grass mowed, provide general management for the area, as well as sales during harvest and Christmas season.

Some people have claimed that live cut trees have chemical residue in them. Scientists have tested cut trees and have not found any significant levels of chemicals. Live cut Christmas trees can be recycled at many neighborhood recycling sites where they are ground into wood chips for trail use, used in ponds and lakes for fish habitat, and will naturally decompose. Live cut trees are 100% biodegradable; when decomposing, carbon (good carbon), nitrogen and other elements are released into the soil.

Of all artificial trees, 85% are made in China. Wow! Think of all of the energy used for all of that transportation! Obviously, all artificial trees are factory-made consuming natural products in the process, and are made from plastics and metals. Artificial trees are largely made from PVC. Lead is used in the process of making PVC, and petroleum is a byproduct of making plastic. During the manufacturing process of PVC, dioxins are created and dispersed. Dioxins are the most toxic man-made chemical known.

Artificial trees can only be disposed of in a landfill. There, the dioxins found in artificial trees are released into the water where they accumulate in fatty tissues of animals, including us, which is a potential risk for causing cancer, damaging our immune system, and impairing our children’s development.

There are some people who may be allergic to pine, or have gotten to the point where they can’t go out any longer to harvest a live tree or purchase one at the corner tree lot. I understand. For them, an artificial tree may be the only way they’ll be able to enjoy a Christmas tree.

However, there are alternatives to disposing an artificial tree other than the landfill. Donate it to the local thrift store, church, school, nursing home or other business that can continue to use it.

Often, it’s tradition that brings families to a tree farm. They remember cutting down a tree as a child and they want to instill these warm memories with their kids. I hope this may settle any live vs. artificial dilemma you may be facing. Wishing you many enjoyable traditions this year with your family and friends.

Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City. Reach her at