Until recently, artificial Christmas trees were cut from compressed polyvinyl chloride (PVC) sheets. Now there's a newer technology that allows manufacturers to create branch tips that are made from injection-molded polyethylene (PE) plastic using copies of live tree needles. It creates a more realistic look and feel, while removing worries of toxic PVC, a perfection solution for a non-toxic artificial Christmas tree!
As we talked about last year, lead is a big concern in Christmas decorations because it's often used as a stabilizer in PVC plastic. Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause learning disorders, brain and nerve damage, hearing problems, stunted growth, and digestive problems. Scientists are increasingly convinced that there is no safe level of lead exposure, especially for young children. The EPA has also listed lead as a probable human carcinogen.
Tips for Choosing a Non-toxic Artificial Christmas Tree
Many artificial Christmas trees which contain PE also have an infill of PVC branches which are made up of flat strips, so you'll want to make sure you confirm that your tree is 100% PE with following tips:
- Keep an eye out for a mention of “molded tip” in the product description.
- If you're shopping for an artificial in person, you'll notice the difference right away, because the needles are three-dimensional rather than flat.
- According to Balsam Hills, while PE trees are constructed differently than PVC artificial Christmas trees, it is important to note that they often have PVC needles incorporated into their construction. In general, the molded tips are in front while the PVC needles are used to fill in the backs of the branches.
- Keep in mind that pre-lit Christmas trees are often wrapped with lights strings encased in PVC. In 2010 Healthy Toys released a report showing that 4 out of 5 sets of string lights tested contained lead, so be sure to keep them out of reach of children.
- Nearly all artificial Christmas trees seem to be made with flame retardants, so be sure to keep the area around them dust-free.
PVC Free Christmas Tree Options
Tracking down PE trees turned out to be very difficult so it took us quite a while to find the options below (NOTE: see the update on *TruTip and **National Trees below…grrrrr).
- The Williamsburg Pine is made specifically to be 100% PVC-free. It's only material is PE, but be sure to buy the unlit version since the lights on the pre-lit trees are not PVC-free. (*NOTE: This tree is already sold out as of 11/19/16, dang it!) We recently interviewed the designer of this unique tree about PVC, lead and flame retardants in Christmas decorations, so be sure to read it here to get the inside scoop.
- The unlit Charlotte Fir is a tree made of 100% PE. The manufacturer did tell us that it has a wrap around the pole that's made of PVC, but it can be removed. Still a far safer option than trees made of PVC.
- Balsam Hill offers two artificial trees that are made with True Needle™ technology using 70-80% PE. They are the Balsam Fir (70%) and the Vermont White Spruce (80%).
- Thanks to A Green Slate, we just learned that IKEA offers a small, Charlie Brown style PE tree in some areas of the country. They're small and not available online, but still exciting!
My husband and I still prefer real Christmas trees. We've made it a family tradition to take the kids on a trek to find the perfect live tree each year. We typically choose a beautiful blue-green fir and enjoy the fresh aroma through the holidays. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to support your local small business owners too.
P.S. Can't afford to invest in a PVC-free Christmas tree this year? See our recommendations here!
Update 11/2014: We were originally told by the manufacturer that TruTip™ trees were PVC-free, but this information turned out to be erroneous. The trees are indeed constructed of injection-molded PE, but they have PVC cores. We do, however, feel that TruTip trees are a safer option than 100% PVC trees.
Update 11/2015: It looks as though the “Feel-Real” Douglas Fir and “Feel-Real” Norway Spruce Hinged Trees by National Tree are now being made from PE with some PVC mixed in, so they're being added to the naughty list this year!
Update 11/2016: The information included in this guide was updated 11/13/2016, so what you see here is all we know at this time.