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Did you know that tinsel used to be made of real silver? It’s true. It may not always look great on Christmas trees but it’s got an interesting history. Thanks to Motherboard for this:


Tinsel was popular in this form for centuries, with a slight break in manufacturing during World W​ar I because of disruptions to the manufacturing chain. But it didn’t last. Lead, as you ma​y recall, has toxic effec​ts on the human body, from our nervous systems to our gastrointestinal tracts.

These effects had been known for a long time, but the US didn’t start enforcing regulations on how much lead could be in commercial products until the 197​0s (lead-based paint was the first to be banned in 1971). In 1972 the US Food and Drug Administration an​nounced that tinsel made of lead could no longer be sold to consumers.

These days, the tinsel you know (and are kind of annoyed with) is made of a synthetic compound called polyvinylchloride, or PVC, with a shiny finish. It’s cheap and durable, used in products ranging from thick housi​ng pipes to reco​rds and fake leather clothes. Some less-flexible types of PVC are recyclable, but those handfuls of sparkly plastic that you throw willy-nilly at your tree are not. Much like the Christmas spirit, tinsel ne​ver dies; instead it sits at the bottom of a landfill with the rest of your holiday glee.