Bah Humbug: Your LEDs & Fake Trees are Not Green

Bah Humbug: Your LEDs & Fake Trees are Not Green

Christmas tree - CC license by Flickr user slideshow bob

 Putting up a fake plastic tree covered in tiny lights may make your holiday green in the color sense, but not so much in terms of the environment.

While LED lights last much, much longer than other alternatives while consuming little energy and fake trees can outlive generations of real trees, they can have negative impacts as well.

Although LEDs don't contain mercury, which is found in compact florescent light (CFL) bulbs, they contain other materials that can escape when they're trashed and just might need to be classified as hazardous waste.

University of California researchers ran nine colors and intensities of LEDs through tests used by the federal government and California, according to Chemical & Engineering News, which reported:

Only one LED, the low-intensity red one, failed the federal test involving acetic acid: It leached an unacceptable level of lead. But eight out of nine of the diodes registered high levels of copper, lead, nickel, or silver using the more-rigorous California standards involving nitric acid. The researchers also detected metals from the semiconductor portion of the LEDs such as gallium and indium, which have no established regulatory threshold limits.

While the tests show LEDs can be hazardous when they're disposed of in landfills, a new study looking at the entire life cycle of trees found that fake trees are greener only if they are used for more than 20 years, reports the New York Times.

“The natural tree is a better option,” said Jean-Sebastien Trudel, founder of the firm, Ellipsos, that released the independent study last year.

The annual carbon emissions associated with using a real tree every year were just one-third of those created by an artificial tree over a typical six-year lifespan. Most fake trees also contain polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which produces carcinogens during manufacturing and disposal.

Real trees are also grow specifically for the purpose of being sold during the holidays, negating any argument that buying fake saves trees from being cut down. And while the only end-of-life destination for fake trees is the landfill, real tress can be turned into compost and lay the groundwork for future green Christmases.

Christmas tree - CC license by Flickr user slideshow bob