By Lisa Iannuci
Holidays are all about decorating, eating, opening presents and enjoying the company of your family and friends. You probably don't give too much thought to these activities impact on the environment – that's a holiday buzzkill, right?
It's time to think as much about the impact of your holiday fun on the planet as you do the gifts you're picking out. Hopefully, the numbers have improved, but a 2021 study of 2000 Americans showed an average of 43% more waste during this festive season. This comes mostly from wrapping paper, gift bags and food waste. Add in the packaging from new decorations and it piles up. Consider making your home look festive with earth-friendly decor.
Bob Richter, the author of “A Very Vintage Holiday: Collecting, Decorating, and Celebrating All Year Long,” said that decorating for the holidays doesn’t get more earth-friendly than using what already exists. “My entire book and life are devoted to using things that have had one or many more lives before they came to me,” he said. “It saves stuff from going to landfills.
When he was a little boy, he would watch Christmas movies with his mom while stringing popcorn and cranberries to decorate the tree. "It's the ultimate in being earth-friendly because after the holidays, I string it on a tree outside, and the birds eat it," he said.
If your home needs a holiday pick-me-up, Richter said to stay out of the big box stores and find your decorations elsewhere. "Go to a yard sale, estate sale, or thrift shop to find vintage decorations," he said.
And while you’re staying out of the big box stores, try to think out-of-the-box too. “Think of using things that aren’t typical holiday decorations,” said Richter. “Tie ribbons to holiday cookie cutters and hang them on a tree or remove decorations from an outdated mobile and put them on the tree.”
Richter remembers using his grandmother’s clothespins that were in the shape of birds on the Christmas tree. “You can also put ribbons on pinecones and use them as ornaments,” he said. “At the end of the summer, bring in dried hydrangeas and spray paint them gold. It's something from your yard from another season and reused.”
What about the Christmas tree? Is it earth-friendly to use a live Christmas tree each year or a fake one for possible decades, and the trees can stay planted?
"Honestly, I use real and artificial Christmas trees," Richter said. "I have reduced my number of live trees, and nothing beats a live Christmas tree. They are raised to be sold, and it's supporting a family business, so my heart is rooted in that."
Typically, live Christmas trees are purchased, used for the holidays, and then disposed of on the street for pickup when the season is over and the tree has dried out. In some areas of the country, there is now an option to rent a live Christmas tree from a company such as Rent Xmas Tree, where you rent a tree for 30 days, and the tree is picked up and returned to the ecosystem, sustaining wildlife and clean air.
If you do not have a tree or need a new one that might not be in the budget, Richter says you can make one by just going outside. “A great way to make an ad-hoc Christmas tree is to gather branches from any kind of tree, even one that’s not flowering, put them in a vase, and put ornaments on them,” he said.
And the holidays aren't just about how things look but also about how it smells, so focus on the fragrances. "My mom made orange pomanders, and it's not Christmas until I make them using the greens in my front yard," said Richter. "The last thing she would do every Christmas Eve is put cloves in an orange, which smelled great and meant Christmas was here."
Richter says a great plus in using earth-friendly decor is that it engages the younger generations. “They make their decisions about buying and their activities based on reducing carbon footprint and being green,” he said. “Most things they do are about reimagining, repurposing and reusing things.”
In addition to Richter's newest book, search for earth-friendly or eco-friendly decorating ideas on sites like Pinterest for more holiday decor ideas.