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Deck the Halls with Green: A Guide to an Eco-Friendly Holiday

Updated: Feb 21

natural, eco-friendly decorations

With the holiday season fully upon us, familiar sights and sounds of festive celebrations are filling the air, holiday shoppers are in the spirit, and Clark Griswald continues to play repetitively on television, making us laugh out loud with his goofy and hilarious antics.

Yet, in the midst of the joyous vibes, twinkling lights, and spontaneous laughter, there's a growing awareness of the impact our holiday traditions can have on the environment. The good news is that the spirit of the season doesn't need to be sacrificed to maintain a commitment to sustainability. In fact, it's quite the opposite! This year, embark on a journey to celebrate the holidays in a way that not only warms your heart but also treads lightly on the planet.

In this guide, "Deck the Halls with Green," we will explore eco-friendly practices across various aspects of the holiday season, from mindful decorating to sustainable gift wrapping, eco-conscious hosting, and planet-friendly festive meals. Join us on this journey to discover how simple choices can make a significant difference. Let's untie the gift of a greener holiday season, fostering joy that resonates not just within our homes but also throughout the world we share. Get ready to embrace a season of warmth, love, and eco-conscious festivities!

How to decorate sustainably

DIY holiday wreath, homemade

What makes decorations sustainable? Sustainable decorations are made with natural elements and last year after year.

holiday decorations, natural christmas decor
Ricky found this white pumpkin head in our neighborhood and made it into a holiday character!

  • You can also go foraging for some natural elements, which is good for the planet and for your soul! Nothing beats immersing in nature for some peace and calm. Seek things like pinecones, branches, rose hips, and holly that can add a festive flavor to your home.

  • If purchasing decorations, consider decorations made of natural materials and made in a fair trade environment that will last for years. For example, my mom has had these wooden deer that she places in her yard year after year — they're beautiful and have lasted for over 20 years! The neighbors even comment that they know when the official holiday season is here when they see the deer. Look for decorations made from organic cotton, sustainable wood, vintage fabrics, or raffia.

  • Find decorations second hand. Visit your local second hand store to see what you can find! It could also be a fun treasure hunt.

Hosting with sustainability in mind

bamboo cutlery, paper goods, compostable

One of the biggest impacts you can make on the planet is to minimize plastic wherever you can during the holiday and beyond. In this day and age, it's nearly impossible to avoid plastic completely, but we can do our part by minimizing use. The chemicals that are used in making plastic are linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and lung diseases, to name a few. Plastic particles are in the air, waterways, and soil, making them ubiquitous. Simply being aware of your plastic use and noting where you can substitute sustainable alternatives that are better for human and planetary health can make a huge impact.

  • Starting with the invites, send them digitally. Websites like Canva, Paperless Post, and Punchbowl make invitation creation fun and simple.

  • Ditch the plastic and opt for earth-friend plates and cutlery. Paper products like the ones you can find on Green Paper Products are compostable, meaning they're disintegrated into healthy soil when composted. Amazon may have more economical options. For cutlery, compostable is a great option, but in order for this concept to work, the cutlery needs to be tossed into compost and not the trash, which ends up in landfill and is not the right environment for making healthy soil. Check with your local compost company to see if compostable cutlery is accepted. Otherwise, check with your recycling center as some compostable cutlery is also recyclable. Wooden cutlery is another great option since it's natural, renewable material. No fossil-based ingredients are needed to produce it, and it can be disposed of by composting without leaving microplastic traces behind like plastic cutlery.

  • Grab yourself some compostable containers to pack leftovers for guests as they leave. It's a double win as the containers are eco-friendly and you're left with no food waste!

  • Speaking of zero food waste, only put out the food you know will be consumed and refill plates as needed rather than putting everything out at once. There's a two-hour rule when it comes to leaving perishable foods out on the counter. The USDA recommends ditching perishable food after it's left out for two hours. Therefore, it's better to have only a small amount available and refill it as needed to avoid waste. If keeping up with restocking food throughout the evening is more than you'd like to handle while hosting (totally understandable!), then make a plan to place cold food on ice and hot food over warmers to keep them at safe temperatures and avoid waste.

potato soup
Creamy Plant-Based Potato Soup

  • Of course, this wouldn't be a planet-friendly article without mentioning plant-based dishes, since plant-based foods create less of a carbon footprint compared to meat and dairy. So, why not make it a plant-centric holiday? Dishes like festive salads, cornbread, or casseroles are all great options that will leave your guests feeling healthy and jolly as they leave your home.

  • If you're the type of host who likes to give your guests a sweet departing gift (as if your loving home and hosting weren't enough!), consider making a big batch of nuts or granola, filling up mason jars with your homemade treats, and tying jute or raffia around them for a tasty homemade sustainable gift they'll love! Or, if you're the one visiting someone's home for the holiday, consider gifting them your homemade treats.

  • If you're able, compost. Minimizing waste is a lofty goal when you're hosting and can be challenging, for sure. If you're able to compost food that can't be saved and use compostable plates and cutlery, so much waste goes back to creating soil through composting. Check out this article if composting is new to you. Since we started using a local composting company here in Atlanta, our trash has decreased by about 60 percent! We went from taking the trash out weekly to taking it out once every three weeks. Plus we get soil in return for our compost which our garden plants love! It's a win all around.

Heartfelt gifts that give back to the planet

DIY gift wrapping, natural gifts

Not only do some of the suggestions below help the planet by minimizing waste, but many of them also encourage heartfelt holiday gifting. Ideas like donating to your recipient's favorite organization, supporting local vendors, and DIY wrapping can spread sincere love while supporting Mother Earth.

  • Donations are always a great idea! Unlike kids who are typically anxiously awaiting your present to unwrap, most adults are happy to know you've donated to their favorite organization in their name. Start here if you're looking for donation ideas, but maybe you can think of a cause that is especially near and dear to their heart. And, if you just can't bear the thought of not giving them something to open, consider purchasing something small from the organization's online gift shop along with a donation.

  • Even though it's so darn easy to do all of your shopping online, consider shopping local whenever possible. Not only will you support local artisans, but your carbon footprint will also be much less since the gift won't have to travel as far. Also, think about all of the packaging waste that comes with online purchases! Go one step further when you shop locally by bringing your own shopping bag.

  • My family knows to give me all of the tissue paper whenever we unwrap gifts. I iron out all of the crinkles (well, not ALL, but I do my best) and place it into the "it's almost like brand new!" wrapping pile for next year's use. I also love to find things from around the house to use as festive wrapping, like reusable bags, reusable ribbon or jute, or cutting up newspaper or shopping bags to wrap gifts. Try any of those ideas and make your gift wrapping extra fancy by adding a pinecone or sprig of rosemary as a gift topper. This is your time to let your creativity shine! Trust me, even if it's not wrapped perfectly — (like that person we all know and love who wraps in a way that hides all of the seams so that you can't even find where to open the gift) — it'll definitely be a conversation piece!

christmas gifts, christmas tree
gifts wrapped with brown paper bags

  • Can you recycle wrapping paper? For you Type A personalities that finished your holiday shopping over Thanksgiving and already have everything wrapped and ready to gift, yay for you! But what about the wrapping paper? Great news! Oftentimes, wrapping paper can be recycled as long as it's just paper and doesn't contain glitter or metallic, which contaminates paper. Check with your local recycling company to be sure.

In what ways have you embraced eco-friendly practices during the holidays? Please share your creative tips and suggestions below!


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