How to Find a Non-toxic Artificial Christmas Tree

How to Find a Non-toxic Artificial Christmas Tree

NEWLY UPDATED: 11/11/14

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 win-win!

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.

Top Tips for Choosing a Non-toxic 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.  It’s best to go with unlit trees and add your own LED RoHs certified lights (the best source of RoHS lights we’ve found here in the U.S. continues to be Environmental Lights).

Polyethylene 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 (*see the update on TruTip trees below).

  • The “Feel-Real” Douglas Fir and “Feel-Real” Norway Spruce Hinged Trees byNational Tree are made from PE and unlit (so no PVC in the light strands).
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  • 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. Combine this tree with lead-free lights to make your Christmas beautiful and non-toxic.
  • 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 Tree offers one artificial tree called the Aspen Estate Fir that is made with True Needle™ technology using 99% PE.  The only bummer is that it’s pre-lit with lights that are encased in PVC.  They did tell us that they have other unlit trees like the Stratford Spruce that are made mostly from PE, so you may want to call them directly to double check.

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.

*We were initially 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.

Balsam Hill

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Alicia Voorhies is a Registered Nurse who decided to take a break to relax and enjoy her young kids after 13 years of working with disabled adults. She began to explore the world of alternative health ideas and was immediately attracted to the mysteries of endocrine disruptors and their effect on children. In 2007 she founded The Soft Landing along with her mom and sisters to help parents provide a safe, natural home for their children without drowning in an overwhelming sea of information.

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  • Irina

    we had a tradition of getting a real Christmas tree until we moved to SD. turns out our youngest daughter is allergic to the local trees :( she gets a rash just being in the same room. so, I am on a hunt for an artificial tree, but worry about off-gassing and negative effects on health.

  • A.

    Hi there Land Sisters! I was attempting to contact TruTip to find out which – if any – of their artificial molded tip trees are 100% PE (and 0% PVC) since the tree descriptions on Christmas Lights, Etc. mostly say “PE/PVC” in the description. However, their contact link isn’t working and returns an error every time I attempt to get in touch. Did you look into which of their trees specifically are 100% PE? Do you have a way of doing so before the next Christmas season is in full swing? Thank you so much! As with irina below, allergies and asthma keep us from having a lovely real tree. Appreciate your help!

    • http://thesoftlanding.com/ The Soft Landing Sisters

      It was impossible for us to get a hold of TruTip as well, so I called their retailers to confirm the previous information we’d received directly from the manufacturer. Only one problem, it seems that TruTip had provided us with incorrect information! I was able to find out that TruTip does NOT make a PVC-free artificial Christmas tree, and that each of their models does indeed have a PVC core covered in PE.

      To end, we’ll be updating our article to reflect the most current information about TruTip products. ~Laura

  • trace

    Just bought a christmas tree from Ikea: polyethylene!!! And very affordable at $39.99CAD

    • http://thesoftlanding.com/ The Soft Landing Sisters

      Thanks for the heads up Trace! We’ll contact IKEA to learn more about it (super exciting!). ~Alicia

      • Courtney

        curious to know what you learn from Ikea about their trees. Thanks!!

        • trace

          I contacted Ikea in 2012 about their Christmas lights, here is what they said:

          Thank you for contacting IKEA Canada. In regards to your inquiry, please note lead, cadmium or their compounds are not allowed to be added to IKEA products.

          The safety and security of our customers and coworkers is of utmost importance to IKEA. All of our products are tested to meet the strictest international safety standards at our own accredited test laboratory in Sweden, and at independent labs and institutes around the world. Our IKEA products are tested regularly during both product development and in running production to ensure that they are free of these toxic metals.

          Should you have any further inquiries, please do not hesitate to contact us.

          Thank you for choosing IKEA for your home furnishing and decoration needs.

          Best Regards,
          Emma
          IKEA Canada Customer Service

    • ssnnncb

      I’ve looked at Ikea, but didn’t find any. Maybe just in Canada?

  • s.

    Thank you so much! I have been looking and looking for info on non-toxic artificial trees. As we get older, it’s more difficult to get a real tree home and set up. So we’re leaning toward artificial trees but we don’t want PCV. I can’t thank you enough for this info. Suzanne

    • http://thesoftlanding.com/ The Soft Landing Sisters

      I’m thrilled to hear that you found the info helpful, Suzanne! We’re headed to our favorite local farm to cut down our own tree tomorrow, and although it’s a memory maker, it’s definitely a time/energy investment. ~Alicia

      • Todd

        There are many Christmas tree retailers that provide delivery assistance with your tree. I ran an online Christmas tree delivery company for years in the Seattle area and provided a much needed service for those just like yourselves. Do a little research and I’m sure you will find a Christmas tree lot that will deliver and set up your tree for you. Even though it may add a little to the cost of the tree, it will be worth it to stay away from expensive and toxic made-in-China trees.

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  • Melissa

    Can you tell me how the poisoning occurs, is it only if it is ingested? We love real trees but my son is allergic, so we bought a artificial tree but now I am concerned with the PVC in it. It does have the flat leaves as filler and it is pre-lit. We however do not gnaw on the tree. :) Before I go out and purchase another one, I wanted to understand how the lead poisoning can occur. Thanks so much for any info! Melissa

    • http://thesoftlanding.com/ The Soft Landing Sisters

      That’s a really great question Melissa! The lead in PVC doesn’t stay put so it sloughs off and ends up in the dust in your home. It’s great that you’re using good supervision to make sure your son isn’t playing around with our mouthing the tree/lights. I’d also recommend you vacuum and/or wet mop daily around the tree to pick up that contaminated dust. ~Alicia

    • Todd

      Melissa, you may receive comfort in learning that your son is not allergic to Christmas trees… he is allergic to the molds, mildews, and other particulates on the tree needles from being in nature. Try hosing your real tree down and letting it dry before bringing it into your home. It has not been proven that people are allergic to trees any more than they are allergic to plants.

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  • britt

    I contacted the National Tree Company, (they have the first two trees for sale from Amazon) and they informed me none of their trees are PVC free, just so you’re aware!

    • http://thesoftlanding.com/ The Soft Landing Sisters

      That’s fantastic news Britt! That wasn’t the case when we first researched for this article, so I’m thrilled to get such a wonderful update. ~Alicia

      • E

        I contacted them too, and they also said all their trees have PVC, but that they are lead-free if they are unlit. They said the lights have lead per a government mandate. I am still nervous to buy a tree with PVC though!

  • Laura

    Has anyone found PVC free garland?

    • Kiki

      I asked Christmastreeforme.com and they said that a pvc-free garland would be too expensive and would get brittle outdoors. No luck.

  • defame

    I’ve been looking for a lead-free tree and lights in Canada. I’d read the same tip as below and even emailed IKEA myself in the past about their trees but we’d decided to go with a live tree. This year we’re thinking because of the tick/lyme population we’d search out a lead-free reusuable tree. Unfortunately IKEA’s trees appear to have lead in them now. http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/catalog/products/30258687/

    • Tracey

      They have lead now? Yikes! Where does it say that?

    • darcie

      Where on the link does it indicate lead? I don’t see it…

  • Lupine

    This didn’t appear to post the first time so here goes: I contacted Balsam Hill and they responded by email yesterday that all of their unlit Christmas trees were lead free. Then I also sent an inquiry to Christmas in America and they say that all their pvc is made in the US and is lead free. Does anyone know if this is true? I know that most of the Balsam Hill contain some pvc so I’m not sure what to think.

  • Kiki

    I just received a response from the National Tree Company (makers of the real-feel). I asked which of their trees/products are pvc-free and this was the response: ‘All of our trees are either 100% PVC or a PE/PVC blend. We do not carry any trees without PVC.’ So anyone wanting a tree made completely of PE should look elsewhere (unfortunately, their trees are lovely!).

  • Suzanne Holt

    Who knew there was that much to think about when it comes to artificial trees? Interesting! As an independent consultant for Norwex, I am always trying to figure how to avoid chemicals in my home. Thanks for compiling these ideas.

  • jules

    PVC free maybe, but not fire retardant free as most manufacturers spray it on at the end.

  • darcie

    Would washing a PE tree help remove fire retardants?

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