In an effort to promote American fresh-cut Christmas trees and counter the rise in sales of mostly imported artificial trees, the real- tree group decided to impose a fee on itself to fund a promotional campaign. The National Christmas Tree Association said in a statement, It will not increase the price consumers pay for their Christmas trees. ABC News explained that the proposal was backed by the very growers who would be paying the fee, and that the money would go to a new marketing board set up by the tree-growing industry, much like the Got Milk? dairy marketing campaign or the beef industry’s It’s What’s for Dinner. Like the other boards, it was to be made official by the US Agriculture Department. But that’s not what we saw all over TV and the Internet. We saw a massive campaign by big-spending lobbyists screaming, Christmas Tree Tax! New Tax on Christmas! and calling President Obama The Grinch. Backed by big box stores, the big money, artificial tree lobby won. The promotional effort was scrapped by the Agriculture Dept. the day it was set to go into effect.
Early artificial trees were made in Germany during the 1920s. Made of feathers, the trees ranged in size from tiny 2-inch models to full size 8 foot trees. The feathered branches were tipped with artificial red berries that doubled as candle holders. In the 1930s, the Addis Brush Company created the first artificial trees, made from brush bristles using the same machinery on which they made their toilet-bowl brushes.
Most artificial Christmas trees today are made of plastic, such as polyvinyl chloride. This plastic, it must be noted, is neither recyclable nor biodegradable. 80% or more of fake trees are now being made in China.
In 2007, Senator Schumer (D-NY) asked the Consumer Products Safety Commission to investigate lead levels in Chinese imported artificial trees.
In 2008, a report by the US Environmental Protection Agency found that the PVC in artificial Christmas trees chemically degrades as it get older. The report determined that, of the 50 million artificial trees in the US, approximately 20 million are nine or more years old, the point where dangerous lead contamination levels are reached. Almost all real Christmas trees in the United States are grown on tree farms where they are cut after about ten years. Growers then plant one to three new seedlings for every tree they harvest.
The National Christmas Tree Association’s proposed new board wanted to promote the environmental benefits of live Christmas trees, stating that every acre of live Christmas trees produces the daily oxygen requirement of 18 people and that Christmas Tree farms stabilize soil, protect water supplies and provide refuge for wildlife.
Most real trees are recycled locally and made into useful mulch. In the river villages, the sale of fresh-cut Christmas trees is a source of income to support the volunteer fire departments.
Shel Haber, a stage, film and television art director, is co-publisher of The Nyack Villager.