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reduce holiday waste

A Guide to Reducing Waste When Decorating for the Holidays

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Dec 7, 2017

There is something special about driving home from work on a cold, dark December night and seeing house after house lighted by twinkling, colored lights announcing the imminent arrival of one of the most cherished times of the year. When Christmas finally does roll around, the Santa Clause, reindeer, elves, and thousands of other decorations that adorn the inside and outside of our homes add to the holiday spirit as family and friends gather to share and celebrate a time of giving.

What most people do not realize, however, is that holiday decorations represent a significant source of pollution, unnecessary energy use and cause problems to the environment. While we often hear of the waste associated with the increase in consumerism during the Christmas shopping season, the things we use to adorn our homes during this season also contribute to the wastefulness that has come to define this special time of year.

christmas lights

Christmas Lights

Christmas lights are perhaps the most common type of holiday decorations. However, the energetic cost of lighting up our homes and yards is substantial. One recent report found that the United States alone used 6.5 billion kWh to light their Christmas lights during 2008. That is more than twice the amount of energy used per year by certain developing countries such as Nepal and Cambodia. Since an average of 1.22 pounds of CO2 is produced for each kWh of electricity consumed, Christmas lights in the U.S. alone send up close to 8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus making those twinkling lights on our homes a major contributor to global warming.

holiday waste

The Hidden Cost of Presents under the Tree and Santa Hanging on the Wall

Americans produce 25% more trash during the holiday season, amounting to 25 million tons of garbage that ends up in the landfill. This extra trash comes from the 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold every holiday season, the thousands of square kilometers of wrapping paper used to wrap gifts, and the insane amounts of plastic packaging used for the gifts we buy.

The decorations that we use to decorate our home are mostly made from different types of plastics. While these decorations intend to infuse holiday spirit to your family and guests, they also might be adding toxins to your home. The tinsel, wreaths, and other artificial greenery that many people put in their homes during the holiday season might very well contain large amounts of lead, toxic flame-retardants, tin compounds and phthalates, and other hazardous substances.

The Christmas lights we use in our homes, besides wasting energy, might also be leaching lead into our homes. One recent study found that over 50% of all Christmas lights had amounts of lead that were significantly higher than what is permitted in children’s toys.

sustainable gift wrap

How to Decorate for an Environmentally Friendly and Non-Toxic Christmas

It would be somewhat “Scroogish” to imply that we should abandon all Christmas decorations. The Holiday season would not be the same without the lights on our homes, the trees in our living rooms, and the wreaths on our doors. Luckily, there are several different environmentally-friendly Christmas decorations options available to us.

Instead of purchasing the regular 40 or 75-watt strand of Christmas lights, several companies offer solar-powered Christmas lights. A small solar panel powers these LED lights, making them an excellent option for outdoor holiday lighting. For indoor lights, opting for LED lights will limit the amount of energy (and money) needed to light your home and tree.

For tabletop decorations, Christmas cards, and wall hangings, instead of heading to Wal-Mart to stock up on wasteful and probably toxic decorative materials, consider making your decorations from recycled materials. From cork wreaths to origami Christmas tree ornaments, there are several different options to make recycled holiday decorations.

Consider heading to a craft fair or Amish farm to purchase your Christmas decorations. Local artisans and farmers often sell Christmas decorations made from locally sourced natural materials. From pinecones to dried orange peels, you can decorate the interior of your home with natural materials sourced from the natural world and crafted by local hands.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-10T02:46:07+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.