Competition from Chinese fake trees is driving U.S. growers of real Christmas trees out of business and causing the prices for the shrinking supply of real trees to spike higher.
There are approximately 350 million real Christmas trees currently growing on farms across the United States to service annual demand for about 25-30 million , according to the National Christmas Tree Association. NCTA projects the average customer will spend about $82.20 for a real tree this year. That is up just 10 percent from last year, but the price for a real tree has spiked by 210 percent from $38.50 in 2014.
The dominant West Coast supplier of real Christmas trees is Oregon. Data compiled by the Oregon Department of Agriculture found that falling demand due to the rising sales of artificial trees caused the annual number of trees cut and sold by Oregon growers to drop by 26 percent between 2010 and 2015. As a result, the number of active growers dropped during the period by more than 30 percent, from 699 to 485.
The industry trade group for artificial trees is the American Christmas Tree Association, which is dominated by Chinese companies that produce over 85 percent of fake trees. Fake tree revenues of $1 billion topped real tree sales in 2011 and continue to climb. The number of real trees sold in 2010 and sold in 2016 was basically unchanged, at 27 million. But the number of fake trees sold more than doubled from 8 million to almost 19 million.
Chinese producers claim plastic trees are better, because they are less messy and do not carry molds. But the reason for the acceleration of real Christmas trees’ loss of market share is that prices simply keep growing. This vicious economic cycle of fewer growers and higher prices is accelerating the trend of consumers switching to fake trees.
The Healthy Child.org blog warns that even if artificial trees are cheaper and last longer than real trees, fake trees are made from petroleum-based PVC plastics and release dioxins over time. Dioxins are toxic and can be absorbed through skin and stored in fatty tissues, where they may cause cancer, neurological damage, and many other serious health issues in both humans and animals.
Although artificial trees are assumed to be less vulnerable to fire, AccuWeather warns that fake trees may be much more flammable than real Christmas trees. Fake trees are also not biodegradable, because the plastic fibers are fused and glued to their metal frames.