China Makes Christmas for Rest of World

By: Lynn Jebbia

China is the world's biggest manufacturer of Christmas products. China exports nearly 2 billion US dollars worth of Christmas products per year with more than half going to the United States. Most of it comes from Shenzhen in South China's Guangdong province.There are over 3,000 factories in Shenzhen producing artificial Christmas trees. Christmas lights, ornaments and Christmas wreaths are also made here. These items are all made from plastic and metals.

Shenzhen is on the coast about an hours drive from Hong Kong. Before 1985, most of these products were mass produced in Taiwan and Hong Kong where the labor was cheap and ports were easily accessible. Taiwan and Hong Kong were not under the strict communist rule of China. By 1985, Taiwan and Hong Kong had developed into huge exporters and their local labor costs had increased. They started looking for a place nearby to ship materials to for assembly by cheaper workers. At the same time China was moving away from communism and setting up special economic zones. These zones welcomed foreign investment and industrial parks were setup to attract them. Consequently, Hong Kong and Taiwanese companies started producing Christmas products in Shenzhen. The growth in exports from Shenzhen over the last 20 years has been huge. About 80% of the factories are owned by Hong Kong companies and the other 20% by companies from Taiwan.

Worker conditions in these factories are poor. The workers toil 12 hours a day six to seven days a week for a monthly salary of $100 to $125. The floors are concrete and little money has been invested into proper work tables, work table height, etc. Many workers are available as they come in from the provinces where they farmed for much less.

Most of these artificial Christmas trees and Christmas wreaths are made from metals and plastics. The plastic material used predominantly is PVC - polyvinyl chloride. When PVC is manufactured it creates and disperses dioxin into the environment which is one of the most toxic man made chemicals. Dioxins enter the food chain through air or water and accumulate in fatty tissues of animals and humans where they can cause cancer, damage the immune system and impair children's development. Also PVC is often stabilized with lead which is a carcinogen and also associated with neurological damage. Lead is used in PVC because it makes the plastic more flexible which is beneficial in the wires and cords. It is also used to stabilize the color. Over time the lead in the PVC product can disintegrate into lead laced dust.

Most people purchase artificial Christmas trees and wreaths because they make less mess, they're cheaper over time and convenient. Consumers should be aware of the dangers of the materials used in these products and the environmental damage done when these materials are manufactured as well as the conditions of the workers producing them. Purchasing fresh Maine balsam fir Christmas wreaths is the environmentally friendly choice and it sure smells a lot better than plastic too.

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