Tips for a greener Christmas

Deck the halls with non-recyclable plastics and items that end up in a landfill, fa la la la la…

Doesn’t sound right, does it? When it comes to holiday decorating our green intentions often disappear. It’s hard to resist all those cute and elegant decorations — many of which are imported from across the world and ultimately end up in the garbage. Are there more environmentally-friendly ways to decorate? You bet, and we’ve got some tips to try this year:


Lights are a favourite part of any Christmas décor, but the additional energy consumption can put a strain on local resources. What can you do to cut your costs?

Continue the switch to LED (light emitting diode) lights . They use a fraction of the energy of their incandescent counterparts, which could add up to as much as 80 – 90 per cent savings according to manufacturers. The products have improved over the years with better colours and the addition of a “warm white”. String lights continue to be popular, and there are many decorative items like stars and snowflakes as well.

Try solar lights. Yes, it’s possible to not use any energy at all, and as an added bonus they work well in hard to reach areas where there’s no easy access to an outlet. There is one caveat: you’ll need to make sure they get enough sunlight in order to work properly. You might want to test a string or two — in an easy to reach place like some shrubs — before you run out and buy a whole set and head for your roof top. These lights are still new on the market, so they may be harder to find and there aren’t as many options available just yet. Like LED lights, solar lights are bound to keep improving in the future.

Maintain limits. The tried-and-true strategy of using timers on your Christmas tree and outdoor lights is still your best bet to reduce energy consumption (not to mention the most convenient).

Set the mood with lighting. Task lighting, or mood lighting, uses less energy than overhead lighting and it’s an effective way to set the mood whether you’re hosting a party or snuggling up with a good book. Play with the concept over the holidays by giving some thought to the arrangement of light.

And of course, candle light provides instance ambiance. For a safer option in arrangements, try rechargeable, battery-operated pillar candles, votives or tea lights in centre pieces and decorative holders. You won’t have to worry about kids or pets jarring them, and you won’t be throwing out candle stubs or empty containers.

For safety reasons, make sure the main pathways around your home are well-lit and clear of items that people could trip over. The same goes for your entrance way — keep it clear of shoes and bags. A holiday-themed LED night light can provide a little extra light, but opt for a clear or warm white light instead of dimmer colours like blue or green.



Do you have a green thumb or a love of nature? Don’t be shy this year.

Let nature shine. Nature’s colours naturally compliment the holiday season and can brighten up any room. If you don’t have pets in the home, try some holiday favourites like poinsettias, amaryllis and azaleas. Pet-owners don’t have to miss out — there are safer options like a Norfolk pine, Christmas cactus or African violet — though they should still be kept out reach of any potential taste-testers. (See Pet-proof your celebration .)

Try to choose plants that you’ll enjoy year round, so you won’t be tempted to let them die after the holidays are over. When in doubt, a little holiday ribbon can dress up any plant for the season.

As an added bonus, many plants will actually remove toxins from the air and add moisture to dry, artificially heated rooms. (See How to grow fresh air.)

Use natural materials. Bring in some natural garlands like pine or cedar bows and spruce them up with your own decorations. Raid your backyard for pine cones for Christmas crafts and homemade ornaments. Popcorn and cranberries are also popular materials for making garlands with the kids or grandkids, but save those decorations for pet-free homes.

Don’t forget to keep your fresh materials in top shape with some frequent misting. When you’re through, make sure to compost or properly dispose of your decorations.

For more ideas and instructions on how to make your own wreath, see Deck the halls — and keep them blooming.

Buy quality. There are lots of inexpensive products out there on the market, but a few good quality pieces will last a lot longer than items that will easily break or fall apart. If you get tired of them, you can pass them along to other family members, sell them or donate them to a charity.

Reassemble and recreate. Sick of that old wreath or that tired flower arrangement? Take it apart and make it into something else rather than buying new materials to work with. The pieces can make other arrangements and wreaths, or can be used in a variety of Christmas crafts.

Add fragrance, not pollutants. Skip the over packaged chemical air fresheners and try some essential oils or try boiling cinnamon and citrus rinds on the stove top. Your scent-sensitive guests will thank you. (See Sweet-smelling toxins for more information).

Think before you buy. It’s easy to get carried away with all the decorating options out there, but when you’re shopping it helps to keep these questions in mind:

Where will I put it? De-cluttering experts warn that if you can’t picture a place for it, chances are you don’t have the room.

Do I really want to dust/store/move another thing? The promise of extra work may be enough of a deterrent.

Would I rather spend my money on X? “X” could be a dinner out, a little cash for the savings account, or simply avoiding more holiday debt.

You may also want to stick with the same rule you apply to your wardrobe: if you buy a new item, then an older item has to go — preferably to a charity, school or hospital instead of the landfill.

The great tree debate

Is a real tree better than an artificial one? The debate continues, but it looks like real trees still get the nod (at least ones that are still alive). Experts say the most eco-friendly option is actually a potted tree — roots and all — that’s planted outside after the holidays are over. While this isn’t a practical solution for everyone, a smaller-sized, potted tree can be an alternative to a full-sized tree when your space (not to mention your time and energy) is limited.

So why the fuss about more common options? The thinking used to be that artificial trees were better because the alternative was killing a real tree every year — and millions of them end up in the landfill. The average real tree takes ten years to grow and pesticides are often required. Real trees are also fire hazards, and can be hard on people with allergies. They require more care than artificial trees, and you can’t beat the convenience of a pre-lit tree.

However, artificial trees are starting to get a bad reputation because they’re made with an assortment of materials that aren’t biodegradable or recyclable, and they ultimately end up in landfills. (Many municipalities have implemented programs to turn real trees into mulch for gardens.) Producing and shipping artificial trees (many of which come from China) releases chemicals in the air, while real trees actually contribute to the environment during their growing years and are easier to find locally (in some parts of Canada, at least). It’s also possible to find organic tree farms where pesticides aren’t used.

Sounds like a no-win situation? What it boils down to is a matter of personal preference. Perhaps the best way to keep your Christmas tree “green” is to focus on the lights (opt for LED and use a timer) and make sure your discarded tree stays out of a landfill if possible. Look into your community’s Christmas tree pick-up services (for real trees) and donate an old artificial tree instead of throwing it out.

For more information about the tree debate, read Real trees better for environment (from Canwest) and’s Real vs Fake Christmas Trees.

So should you go eco-crazy this holiday season? It’s not necessary — a change or two each year can have a big impact. As you’ve probably guessed, there are still a lot of contradictions out there — like the real versus fake debate — and there are no easy answers. The point is to think more carefully about our wasteful habits at Christmas time, and pay a little more attention to how our celebrations impact the environment.