As we begin to deck the halls and hang the mistletoe, Sophie Parsons considers how to keep Christmas decorations as low-waste and natural as possible.
As soon as it turns December 1st, after the advent calendars are opened and the first mince pies eaten, unpacking the Christmas decorations and sourcing the tree moves to the top of our priority lists. Quickly the house begins to resemble something akin to Santa’s grotto, with any spare space filled with foliage, fairy lights and strings of cards wishing happy holidays. Typically, plastic features pretty heavily within decorating for Christmas; glitter covered baubles, miniature plastic toys in crackers, and sparkly cards and gift-wrap only adds to the waste surrounding the holiday. According to GWP, an extra 30% of rubbish is produced and discarded throughout the festive period in comparison to the rest of the year – that’s around three million tonnes of additional waste. This year, thanks to the growing awareness around single-use and microplastics, many retailers have committed to a glitter-free Christmas, with Marks & Spencers removing all glitter from their cards and gift wrap.
Being more conscious of the environmental impacts that come with our Christmas decorations doesn’t have to leave us feeling like we’ve received a visit from the Grinch. Instead, focusing on natural and recyclable materials can make room for creativity and new traditions. Wintery afternoons can be spent foraging for festive foliage, the house filled with the citrusy scent of drying oranges ready to be turned into a homemade garland.
Traditions and Family Heirlooms
Perhaps the most sustainable option when it comes to decorating the house is dusting off our already over-flowing collection of baubles. Aside from the nostalgia that comes from handcrafted decorations returning year on year atop the fireplace, bringing out these ‘family heirlooms’ as opposed to buying new ones every year dramatically reduces your Christmas waste.
Sparkle, be it from twinkling lights or metallic baubles, is indisputably a necessary component when turning our Christmas trees into festive centerpieces. Though the most sustainable way to decorate is with the collection we already have, if your bauble stash needs a little updating why not try and steer clear of glitter and achieve a similar effect with glass. As well as being a fully recyclable and natural material, its reflective nature will leave your tree twinkling without the added addition of micro-plastics. For a more traditional and Scandi-inspired aesthetic, baubles crafted out of wood and paper will bring back an earthy and nordic vibe to your tree – just ensure that they are FSC certified and sustainably sourced where possible.
In addition to the baubles, considering the lights you are using to decorate can have a big impact on your Christmas carbon footprint. According to Energy Saving Trust, an extravagant light display can produce enough carbon dioxide to fill 95 telephone boxes during the 12 days of Christmas alone. If including lights is non-negotiable, be it on your house or your tree, ensure that you are using LED powered lights, with these requiring 90% less energy than their incandescent alternatives. Better yet, rely on green energy and power your outdoor light display with solar-energy.
Crafting a Natural Wreath
There is nothing quite as festive as hanging a wreath of fir leaves and berries on your front door to signify the beginning of Christmas. If you are trying your hand at making your own, investing in a wire frame means being able to reuse it year after year, simply cutting off and composting the foliage at the end. The important thing to avoid here is more plastic and any other unnatural decorations that may be woven into your wreath. Instead, tie in dried oranges, pine cones and dried flowers for a completely compostable door decoration.
Laying a Sustainable Table
For many of us, the holiday period is spent around the dinner table – competing to see who can keep their paper hat on for the longest. In addition to reducing the food waste that can come from over-ambitious cooking, laying the table itself creates the opportunity for tackling our Christmas day environmental footprint.
Crackers, filled with their novelty prizes and well-versed jokes, are a Christmas staple; however, very rarely do we win anything of worth and quickly another piece of unnecessary plastic ends up in the bin. Taking inspiration from the wedding breakfast, get creative with name cards and homemade favours for your guests. If you can’t resist the spectacle of the cracker, a ‘fill your own’ option creates the opportunity to fill them with more meaningful (plastic-free) gifts that won’t end up being discarded moments later.
Much like the confusion that surrounds wrapping paper, paper napkins from dinner could easily make their way into your recycling bin under the pretense that their natural fibres can and should be recyclable. As is the case with much food packaging, the grease from your food contaminates the fibres and renders it impossible to recycle. Linen napkins are reusable meal after meal and make for a more sophisticated table setting; just make sure they are 100% natural, opting for materials such as linen or organic cotton.
For the centre of the table, in amongst the dishes of sprouts and roast potatoes, create a Nordic cosiness with candles and natural foliage. Vases filled with offcuts of fir trees, holly leaves and mistletoe will not only help to curate a natural centerpiece but are the perfect seasonal alternative to cut flowers. Ask your local florist or Christmas tree farm if they have any pieces that are too small to be used and weave them into garlands and bouquets. If you’d rather a practical approach, venture into local woods, forests or your own garden to see what greenery you can find.