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.
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).
- Williamsburg Pine offers one tree 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.
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