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A Simple Guide To Sustainable Christmas Decorations

It’s time to hang the garlands and wreaths again. But let’s take a green approach and give Santa a greener welcome this holiday season.

The festive season is all about having a lot of fun family time, and getting your home decorated is one of the highlights for my family. But you can also get carried away with all the decorations available in stores. 

This year, I would urge you to pause for a moment before buying any new Christmas decorations and think about how sustainable they are. 

It’s also a great time to make an inventory of your decor to check if you have eco-friendly Christmas decorations. 

And if you think you can make some improvements, then let me guide you through a process I’ve come up with over the past few years. 

Are Traditional Christmas Decorations Sustainable?

The first thing I would point out is that the majority of traditional decorations for the festive season are not sustainable. And it all comes down to three important factors that should get you thinking. 

Plastic

One of the biggest issues with Christmas decorations is that the vast majority of what you find in stores is all made from cheap plastic. Everything from nativity scenes to Christmas tree toppers and window decorations almost always contains some form of plastic. 

That makes them very susceptible to being damaged easily and ending up in the trash. 

How often have you pulled out a box of decorations from last year only to see damage or a missing part like those small hooks on Christmas tree baubles?

Traditional Christmas Decorations Sustainability

Non-Recyclable

The other problem with those plastic decorations is that they most often are not a type of plastic that you can put in your recycling bin. Instead, they end up in a landfill or blow away into nature, where they can do even more damage. 

It’s actually one area where sustainable Christmas decorations can make the biggest difference, as focusing on certain materials can either ensure that your decorations last for decades or that they are easily dealt with through a recycling service. 

Energy Wasting

The other big reason for switching to sustainable decorations comes down to the amount of energy some lights and other decorations use. 

A few years ago, I was surprised by how many old lights we still had in use. Not only are they really annoying when there’s a loose connection or a faulty bulb, but they can use ten times more electricity than modern LED lights. 

I put all the lights we had together and worked out the energy consumption. And the result was quite staggering. 

When I replaced all of them with eco-friendly lights made of sustainable materials and LED bulbs, that energy consumption plummeted. 

What Makes A Christmas Decoration Sustainable? 

So, you understand now why it’s so important to have sustainable Christmas decorations. But what do you need to look out for when you’re searching for decorations or planning to make your own?

Here’s what to keep in mind. 

Reusability

The very first thing you need to think about when choosing eco-friendly Christmas decorations is whether or not you’ll be able to use them every year for many years to come. 

And that sometimes means investing in better quality products than the cheapest plastic ones you can find. How many times have you pulled boxes of decorations down from the attic only to find loads of broken pieces?

reduce reuse recycle

Fair Trade Federation Materials

You should also look out for products that come with a Fair Trade Federation seal. This is typically only applicable to natural materials, and if you look for things like edible candy canes and advent calendars, then check that the sugar and other ingredients have the Fair Trade Winds logo. 

Upcycled And Recycled Decorations

The absolute best way to plan eco-Christmas decorations is to upcycle materials you have at home and make new things with your kids. 

In my home, this is how we spend two full weekends from Thanksgiving onwards. We pull out old cardboard boxes and recycled paper to make all sorts of new decorations, from origami stars to beautiful tree skirts. 

And if you do need to buy a few new things, then check the boxes to make sure they are made from recycled materials like plastic, glass, and metal. 

Upcycled And Recycled Christmas Decorations

Energy Efficient Certification

The other important thing to look for in eco-friendly Christmas decorations that light up is whether they have some certification on them about energy efficiency. Ideally, this should be an Energy Star rating, but at the very least, you need to look out for LED lights. 

LEDs are extremely energy efficient, and they can save you over ten times the energy you would use with traditional light bulbs. Plus, they will last for decades and come in many different colors that allow you to add a whole new level of excitement to your decorations. 

energy efficient Christmas Decorations

10 Eco-Friendly Christmas Decorations And Ideas To Make a Real Change

Here are the ten tips I have accumulated over the past few years that can make your Christmas a lot more eco-friendly. 

1. Rent a Christmas Tree Instead of Buying

Christmas trees are actually one of the most environmentally damaging parts of Christmas. Real Christmas trees are cut down, and that ends up destroying natural habitats, even if they were planted only for that reason. 

But have you ever considered renting a Christmas tree?

The great thing is that you can actually rent real trees that come in a large pot. This saves all the polluting plastic of artificial trees, and you get the amazing fresh pine smell in your home. 

You’ll also find that these trees don’t shed, so there won’t be any mess. And once Christmas is over, someone else will take care of it until next year. 

sustainable Christmas Decorations tips

2. Get Recycled Gift Wrapping Papers

A few years ago, I collected all the wrapping paper after Christmas in one bag. I then weighed it to show my kids how important it is to always find recycled wrapping paper. 

The larger your household is, the more waste paper there will be, and the holiday season really shouldn’t be about being wasteful. 

Another great option is to invest in nice gift boxes and paper bags. You can reuse these many years over. 

3. Try Dried Orange Garland

This has become a favorite tip for creating homemade eco-friendly decorations with a very festive spirit in mind. 

What you do is buy a few medium size oranges. Then cut some orange slices and place them on kitchen paper to squeeze out as much juice as possible without damaging them. 

Then, place the orange slices in the oven at 250 Fahrenheit until they are fully dried out. 

You can then feed the slices onto a string and decorate your tree or windows with it. The garland also leaves an amazing smell. 

sustainable Christmas Decorations tips

4. There Are Many Ways To Use Cinnamon Sticks

And since we’ve already started with scented homemade Christmas decorations, why not continue with another amazing idea to add festive smells? 

To create one of the most sustainable Christmas decorations, simply tie two cinnamon sticks together with some festive ribbon and then use them as tree decorations.

You can also use them as a great way to decorate the dining table on Christmas day. The smells are subtle and not overpowering and can really set a great mood this holiday season. 

5. Time To Get Eco-Friendly Christmas Crackers

If you’re careful with wrapping paper and save a few sheets each year, then you can easily make your own Christmas crackers. 

But if you don’t have the artistic skills to do that, then make sure you shop for eco-friendly crackers. You’ll find a lot more of these that focus on using recycled paper. 

But you also want to make sure that everything inside is eco-friendly and not just some cheap plastic toy that is just going to end up in the trash. 

Yes, you might need to pay a bit extra, but having something a bit more usable in crackers will make them more enjoyable for the whole family. This is one of the sustainable holiday tricks that I follow. 

sustainable Christmas Decorations tips

6. Make An Advent Calendar Out of Cardboard

You probably have many chances during the year to save small cardboard boxes from deliveries or even food you buy. 

A great way to put those to good use is to wrap them in reused wrapping paper from last year and add numbers to them from 1 to 24. Then hang them up pieces of string and add small surprises to each one for a homemade advent calendar. 

You can add treats or small toys and even gift vouchers. You’ll be surprised how much more enthusiastic kids can be about such a calendar than the store-bought ones with toys they really don’t play with. 

7. Try Upcycling Christmas Cards

The best way I have found to upcycle cards from previous years is to cut the front off and incorporate them into homemade Christmas decor. You can further cut out different shapes and sections of the cards to make smaller decorations. 

I’ve also used old cards to decorate some gift boxes with a contemporary design that makes every single box completely unique. 

Another great idea is to use them as place settings if you’re hosting a party over the holiday season

sustainable Christmas Decorations tips

8. Use Solar String Lights This Year

I already mentioned that it’s important to have LED lights as eco-friendly Christmas decorations. But another way to take your Christmas decor one step further towards maximum eco-friendliness is to look for solar-powered ones

Rather than plug them into a socket, they will have a small solar panel and a battery pack. If you place the solar panel in a south-facing window, you should get enough battery life to keep the lights on for many hours in the evening. 

You can also find other Christmas tree ornaments that are solar-powered to further lower your carbon emissions. 

9. How About Some Solar Christmas Decorations

And since we’re on the topic of solar power, you can find many other types of eco-friendly Christmas decorations and ornaments that rely on solar energy

My favorite addition from two years ago is a set of outdoor pathway lights for the garden. You can arrange them in different patterns along a footpath or even decorate furniture, patio areas, and trees with some sparkling lights. 

You can also get lights that come in the shapes of Santa, reindeer, and many other festive inspirations, all with solar power units to make them much more sustainable. 

sustainable Christmas Decorations tips

10. Make Sure to Recycle Your Christmas Lights Afterwards

Even if you buy eco-friendly Christmas decorations and lights that will last for years, there will eventually come a day when they no longer work. Or maybe you’ve gone ahead and replaced those old lights with new energy-efficient ones. 

In that case, make sure you go ahead and recycle your old lights in an ethical and safe way. GreenCitizen offers a convenient drop-off and mail-in service to take care of those old lights. 

They will then be stripped down into raw materials and either safely disposed of or reused as production materials in different industries. 

sustainable Christmas Decorations tips

FAQ

What is the most ethical way to have a Christmas tree?

The most ethical way to have a Christmas tree is to keep a live tree or rent a tree. This will avoid unnecessarily cutting down a tree that will then just die. If you have the space in the yard, then plant a potted pine tree and simply bring it into your home for Christmas.

What can you put up instead of a Christmas tree?

You can put up large Christmas ornaments instead of a Christmas tree. People who live in small apartments often put up a cardboard tree on the wall and add simple decorations and a garland to get the same effect.

Is it more environmentally friendly to have a real or fake Christmas tree?

It’s more environmentally friendly to have a real Christmas tree that you keep alive. Rather than cut it down, simply keep it in a pot in your garden. Fake Christmas trees have huge carbon footprints, and you’d need to use one for over 15 years to make that pay off.

How can I decorate my Christmas without spending money?

You can decorate your Christmas tree without spending money by upcycling household materials. If you spend a couple of months collecting paper, glass, and cardboard, you can then use different arts and crafts techniques to create your own decorations.

What is the five-gift rule for Christmas?

The five-gift rule is about giving someone something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read, and something they don’t know they want or need. It’s a great way to make a huge impression, and ideally, you would find locally sourced gifts.

Take The Sustainable Approach To Holiday Decor

Planning for sustainable Christmas decorations doesn’t have to be a huge task. From upcycling candle holders to having a few weekends of fun with kids to making your own decorations, you can make a huge difference in the environmental impact of Christmas. 

As you start your home decoration process, simply look at everything you have and see if there are better ways to replace them. 

Make sure all your lights are either low energy or solar powered and don’t just throw things you don’t need in the trash. Look at what you can recycle, and always think of how your actions will impact nature. 


Chris is one of GreenCitizen’s writers who has been a long-time advocate of individual responsibility when it comes to the environment. He shares GreenCitizen's passion for making the world a better place every day of the year.


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