Use eco-friendly Christmas decorations
Almost as big as gift-buying, Christmas decorations are another thing we Americans spend a lot of money on every year around holiday time—in the first half of 2007, the US imported over $140 million worth of ornaments, most of which came from China. But if you’re looking for ways to create the perfect green Christmas, look no further! Here you’ll find all manner of ideas for creating and buying eco-friendly Christmas decorations.
What to look for in eco-friendly holiday decorations
Christmas lights and candles are often central in Christmas decorating schemes, but what of the ornaments, garland, centerpieces, tree skirts, stockings, and other decor items used around the holidays? Each year, there’s a new crop of exciting, beautiful decor displays at department and novelty stores, enticing us to embellish for the season. But many of the products on the market are made from non-renewable, often toxic and unrecyclable materials that are not only unhealthy for our families, they’re casting a less-than-festive glow on the earth. They require loads of resources, energy, and water to make and distribute, and often end up in the trash where they’ll take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to break down.
Thankfully, many unique, stylish decorations made with earth-friendly materials now exist. You can certainly purchase eco-conscious Christmas decorations to adorn hearth, table, and door. But if you’re looking for ways to craft some homemade Christmas decorations this year, we’ve got you covered, too. Check out these great green ideas for making your home shine with ideas that’ll give you a low-cost holiday—for both you and the earth.
Ornaments, garland, and other tree decorations
- Used CDs and DVDs: Apply some paint, beads, and ribbon to an old CD or DVD to make it into a snowman or Victorian-styled ornament for the tree or your windows.
- Old Christmas bulbs: If you’ve got a string of old, inefficient incandescent Christmas bulbs, why not turn them into interesting ornaments like a choir of angel, a herd of reindeers, Santa and Mrs. Claus, or snow people. Similar ornaments can be made from regular bulbs of all shapes and sizes.
- Natural elements: Decorate the tree with plain or painted pinecones, decorated eggshells leftover from the eggnog, or dried herbs. Add a bit of glue, some ribbon, and other crafty elements to create angels or some earthy garland. Just be sure to compost your leftovers at the end of the holiday.
- Baked and edible ornaments: Hang gingerbread people, popcorn, small lady apples, cinnamon sticks, cranberries, and candy canes. Or bake-up some simple, inexpensive dough to create star- and tree-shaped ornaments. Add icing for detail and hang with a ribbon from year to year. You can also create garland using dried apples, oranges, and lemons strung together. And when they break, simply compost with your other kitchen scraps.
- Last year’s cards: Turn old holiday cards into fun folded or glittered ornaments.
- Empty bottles: Convert pill bottles and other lightweight plastic containers into snowmen and angels.
- Avoid synthetics: Opt out of Mylar tinsel, which isn’t biodegradable, and spray snow, which is full of toxic chemicals. Instead, use durable tin tinsel and decorate with snowflakes and other less hazardous options.
Table and mantel decorations
- Natural elements: Turn an old clay pot and a pinecone into a nice topiary centerpiece. Or gather evergreen boughs and holly to drape across your mantel, doorway, banisters, mirrors, or table.
- Unwanted books: Got a paperback you’re never going to read again? Turn it into a shiny mini tree for your table or mantel.
- Edible elements: Set out pots of scented herbs, fill bowls with fruit (dried or fresh), nuts, or cookies. Or get the whole family involved in a gingerbread house-making event and use that to grace your table for the rest of your time together. Compost it when done.
- Old cards: Make place cards using last year’s holiday cards and set them in name card holders fashioned from pine cones. These, too, can be thrown in the compost pile.
- Recycled and reusable tableware: Serve your holiday dinner from eco-friendly dishes, flatware, and glassware rather than disposables. And if you’re in the market for an extra holiday-themed set of dishes for the holidays (something you might want to reconsider since it’ll require storage space, extra cash, and additional resources), why not seek out secondhand options from ebay, your local thrift store, or garage sales so that you’re not encouraging the production of new products?
- Reusable crackers: Enjoy the noise-making tradition of Christmas crackers by making your own! But instead of using disposables like new wrapping paper or cardboard tubes, recycle old toilet paper or paper towel tubes, fill with special treats and a snap, and finish with cloth covers (old napkins or pieces of fabric) so that you can reuse them again each new season.
Stockings, tree skirts, and other textiles
- Scraps of fabric: Instead of buying new pot holders or stockings for the season, use bits of material to create your own. The same materials can also be used to piece together a fun patchwork tree skirt.
- Unused linens: Make your own cloth napkins from old clothes or sheets, or buy fabric made from organic cotton or renewable materials like bamboo or hemp.
The intangibles—scents, smells, and more
- Drinkable scents: Add the scents of the holidays to your home by having cider warming in a crock pot.
- Potted smells: Create your own potpourri to fill bowls or mugs which get placed strategically around the house. Add natural aromas with essential oils.
- Warmth and coziness: Although we’d recommend that you turn down your thermostat to cut energy consumption and save energy over the holidays, if you’re going to start a cozy fire, GY recommends that you practice eco-safe fire principles while using certifiably-green wood.
- Sounds of the season: Why not “decorate” your home by playing festive music in the style of your choice. This can cost very little (many radio stations play holiday tunes 24/7 around the Christmas week), creates less garbage (especially if you purchase e-tunes online sans packaging through iTunes or Amazon.com), and requires very little setup or take down.
Find it! Store-bought Christmas decorations
Eco-decorating for rushed and/or non-crafty folks just got easier. Just look for products with some or all of these basic, eco-buying attributes:
- Renewable: Choose products made from materials that are renewable. Avoid things made with synthetics, such as plastic, polyester, and PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which are made from non-renewable petroleum. Instead, choose materials like cotton, hemp, bamboo, jute, natural rubber, silk, and other alternative fibers.
- Biodegradable: Look for products that are made of materials that easily and quickly biodegrade. Most often this includes natural products that can be put in your compost pile or bin, and is especially important for products with short lives (such as disposable dishes, napkins, and other textiles).
- Recycled and recyclable: Many flashy, novel Christmas decorations contain very little recycled material, and too often they’re also non-recyclable (plastics, metals, Styrofoam, etc). So instead of buying that inflatable lawn ornament or an artificial tree or strand of garland that will likely end up in the landfill in one or two seasons, go for decorations with high recycled content that indicate they’re recyclable when they no longer work.
- Energy-saving: Choose products that will save energy throughout the holidays such as energy efficient lighting and light timers. Some outdoor Christmas lights even come with mini solar panels, making them virtually free to operate.
- Reduced toxicity: In both textiles and food items, this means choosing Certified Organic, as well as those made with plant-derived ingredients. Other certifications ensure low toxicity in furniture, electronics, toys, and more.
- Certified green: A great way to be sure you’ve picked up a green product is to look for green certification logos that indicate verifiably eco-friendly products. These provide assurance that the materials (wood, metal, fabrics, etc) were sourced sustainably, free from animal cruelty, are recyclable or biodegradable, and contain few if any toxins.
Count down the days until Christmas with this advent calendar full of Fair Trade Certified chocolate created by farmers in Ghana. Today, there are more than 45,000 cocoa farmers working together to produce environmentally friendly chocolate products.
Adorn your tree this year with these magical glass globes made of 100 percent recycled materials and hand-blown. Colors can be chosen to match your holiday decor, each with a special meaning.
Add a touch of whimsy to your tree with these fun, colorful strands of garland. Made from 100 percent wool, each strand is 6 feet in length and made of hand-felted and appliquéd flowers. Reindeer and snowball garland also available.
Roast some chestnuts over an open fire—and make them organic! These nuts come in their shells and also are perfect for soups, desserts, and stuffings. Additional nuts and dried fruits are available.
GreenSage Store sells a selection of hemp and organic cotton tablecloths in simple colors that could suit a variety of occasions. They’re also grown and sewn in the US, making them local and sustainable.
Dress up the base of your tree with one of these hand-felted, hand-appliquéd, 100 percent wool beauties. Also available are snowflake, dog bone, Christmas tree, and toy train themed wool skirts, as well as some exquisite silk options. Measures 60” in diameter.
This set of 10 ornaments is made from sustainably silk and beautifully embroidered by hand with golden beads. Shapes include stars, bells, butterflies, stockings, and trees and are fair trade.
Decorate your home with this interesting wall art. It’s made from a variety of reclaimed materials, including cookie tins and anti-freeze containers and finished with label remnants and words to create one-of-a-kind pieces. Available in a variety of festive sayings.
These fair trade ornaments are hand-crafted in Brazil and made from strands of recycled paper. They are finished with cotton ribbons and baubles and come in paper boxes decorated with cotton and jute.
Choose from a dizzying array of eco-friendly essential oils, from the usual suspects—lavender and lemon—to the more esoteric—cajeput and cornmint. The company also sells organic teas, bulk ingredients, and, herbs and spices.
Hand one of these beautiful stockings from your mantel for a special touch of winter. Made from 100 percent wool (a renewable resource) by local artisans in India, these stockings come in a wide range of designs, shapes, and colors.
Made by an exclusively fair trade production team in Haiti, these angels are fashioned out of empty oil drums that washed up on shore after WW II. Each angel is hammered from a single piece of recycled oil drum.
Decorate your doors with these nature-inspired wreaths handmade from fresh California Bay Laurel and accented with fresh red chilli peppers. After the holiday is over, take apart the wreath and use the dried bay leaves for cooking!
Update your throw pillows for the season with these covers made from 100 percent organic cotton. Hand-appliquéd by women in India, these are not only beautiful, they support sustainable livelihoods for many families.
Add charm and beauty to the exterior of your home with a bouquet filled with USDA Certified Organic ingredients like wild roses, lavender, myrtle, and angel breath achillea. Measures 12” in diameter. Additional options available closer to the holiday season.
It’s always fun to pluck a candy cane from the tree for an afternoon holiday snack. Make yours more healthy and eco-friendly by choosing USCA Certified Organic options made with cane juice, brown rice syrup, natural peppermint, and organic fruit juice!
Using Certified Organic hemp or linen, these Euro-made table fashions come in 12 sizes and five colors. Rawganique offers cloths to fit rectangular, round, and square tables. Can be purchased with coordinating napkins.
Adorn your windows or Hanukkah table with one of these handmade sun-catching ornaments. They’re made from broken window panes which have been crushed, melted, colored, and poured into molds.
These colorful ornaments are made by hand in Cambodia in a Fair Trade collective. They come as a set of three and include moons and stars in a variety of sizes and colors (blue, green, burgundy, purple, and tan).
Light the way to your home with this wreath trimmed with tiny lights. The faux evergreen boughs are made from recycled plastic, and the lights are powered using renewable energy from a hidden daylight-sensing photo cell.
Place one of these brimming baskets in your home for people to munch on as they play games or watch a favorite holiday film. Fills with Certified Organic ingredients (Quality Assurance International) like dried fruit, nuts, trail mix, crackers, and chocolate-covered almonds.
This old fashioned tinsel is made from durable tinned iron that is long-lasting and Mylar-free. Produced in a small tin shop in Canada, these ornaments come in either tinsel or star shapes, adding a beautiful, sustainable touch to your tree.