The countdown to Christmas is on!
Shopping centres have been decorated for weeks, ornaments and tinsel are for sale in nearly every store you enter, and your social media feed is filled with posts and hacks on the latest Christmas décor trends for the year.
It’s very easy to get swept away with it all, and think you need to buy all the ‘things’ to make your Christmas perfect — especially when you just want to make the day special for your little ones.
But stop for a minute. Take a deep breath and get a little perspective.
Christmas is actually only ONE day.
While the build-up to day is exciting, especially for children, ask yourself if Christmas is really worth going into debt over? Or endangering your health and the environment for?
Christmas decorations: a financial and environmental disaster
Each year, Australians spend big on Christmas. The average credit card debt after the holiday period is $1,666, with 82% of Aussies taking 6 months to pay off the debt, and 11% taking anywhere between 6-24 months! That means that some people are still paying off last year’s Christmas expenses when the next one rolls around. Yikes!
Christmas is also a time of year, when we generate the most amount of waste. Every year, in our quest to make everything ‘perfect’, Australians generate an extra 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging and 8 tonnes of wrapping paper. The mind boggles as to how much waste is generated on a global scale! Is it any wonder the season has been referred to as ‘the world’s greatest annual environmental disaster’.
The good news is you can have an eco-friendly Christmas that won’t break the bank.
Christmas decorations: deck the halls, not the planet
It’s one thing to deck out your house with Christmas decorations, but we shouldn’t be polluting the environment with them. Unfortunately, that’s what tends to happen when they’re old or broken.
It might surprise you, but many decorations can’t be recycled, which means they all end up in landfill. This includes:
FAIRY LIGHTS & LED LIGHTS
Can’t be recycled because they’re electronic, and the long, string/rope gets caught in the conveyor belts of the recycling stations.
Gets wrapped around recycling conveyor belts and other machinery and is therefore unsuitable for recycling.
FOIL & PLASTIC WRAPPING
Regular wrapping paper can be recycled, but not foil and/or ‘plastic’ wrapping paper.
PLASTIC CHRISTMAS TREES
While these are reusable, they can’t be recycled when they’re broken or too old.
Planet Ark also warns that glass, plastic and metal wires in Christmas decorations can stay in landfill anywhere from hundreds to 1000 years!
Christmas decorations: holiday hazards
In addition to the impact decorations have on the environment, many of them may contain toxic substances.
Some ornaments, particularly vintage decorations or those made overseas, may be decorated with lead-based paint. In the case of antique ornaments, some may also contain mercury.
More than half the lights (54%) tested in a US study had levels of lead higher than what was permitted in children’s products, with some of them containing more than 30 times the acceptable levels.
Many sprays contain acetone or methylene chloride which can be harmful when inhaled. Briefly inhaling it can cause nausea, light-headedness and headaches. Longer-term exposure can result in more serious health problems including damage to the brain and central nervous system.
Candles may seem relatively safe, but many are made from paraffin wax and synthetic fragrances, both of which are derived from petroleum. Petroleum-based candles can emit toluene and benzene, both of which can cause cancer.
The majority of artificial Christmas trees come from China where they are much more likely to contain hazardous chemicals and materials. The needles on these trees are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which is made from vinyl chloride — a known human carcinogen. PVC can also release dioxins into the air leading to asthma, reproductive and developmental issues.
As PVC is a hard plastic, toxic phthalates are used to soften it. Phthalates have been linked to a multitude of health issues including asthma, birth defects, cancers and diabetes, behavioural issues, autism, as well as male reproductive issues.
Sometimes PVC is stabilised with lead. And fire retardants — which have been shown to affect the reproductive system, thyroid function and neurological development of children — are also used in the product.
Christmas decorations: which tree is greener?
Despite the chemicals associated with artificial trees, many believe these are better for the environment than real trees, because they can be re-used every year and don’t involve cutting down vegetation.
However, experts argue that real trees are greener in more ways than one.
Firstly, Christmas trees are farmed specifically using cleared land. When they are chopped down, seedlings are planted to replace them. While they’re growing, the trees work their magic and convert carbon dioxide from organic matter, through the process of photosynthesis. Trees also create organic matter that can be put back into the soil, thereby enriching it.
Pine trees also filter the air and provide habitats for birds and insects, and because they’re locally grown, they have a smaller carbon footprint, than artificial trees that have been imported from overseas.
However, the most important is that they are 100% biodegradable and recyclable and don’t have the problem of toxic chemicals that artificial trees do. YAY!
DIY Christmas decorations: better for the planet and your wallet
After reading the above, you might be wondering if there are any decorations worth having on your sustainably farmed Christmas tree.
Fortunately, there are many Christmas decorations you can make yourself that are easier on the planet and on your budget. And the best part is you can get the whole family involved.
Some ideas include:
Take inspiration from years gone by and bake some home-made cookies. Use Christmas-shaped cookie cutters and decorate. Just don’t forget to poke a hole through the top of them so you can hang them on the tree!
Cook some popcorn and leave it for a day or two, as freshly popped corn is usually too brittle to thread. Then simply pass a needle and thread through each piece to popcorn to make a chain. You can also use some natural, non-toxic food colouring to tint the popcorn before threading.
DRIED FRUIT & CINNAMON GARLAND
Simply take oranges, pears and apples and cut them crossways, (so you see the seeds in the middle of the apple and pear slice, and the orange slice resembles a wheel). Place them on an oven rack and bake them at a low temperature for 5 to 6 hours. When the fruit is dried, remove from the oven. Using a needle and twine, simply thread the fruit onto the twine and intersperse with cinnamon sticks. Mmmm. Smells delicious!
RECYCLED PINE CONES
Pine cones can be used in a multitude of ways at Christmas time. You could glue them together to form a wreath, or brush the ends of the cone with glue and sprinkle with Epsom salts. Hang them, point side down, with a ribbon.
MIXED HERB WREATH
Why not get creative and make your own Christmas wreath from mixed herbs!? You can use any herbs you like, but rosemary and lavender make a deliciously fragrant wreath. You can make your own ‘hoop’ by shaping wire, or purchase a ready-made wire wreath from a craft shop. Simply weave the herbs around the wreath. You can add dots of colour by tying garlic bulbs and chillies to the wreath. And when the wreath has dried out, you can use the dried herbs for your cooking!
Get your little ones involved by making your own felt decorations to hang on the tree. Simply use Christmas cookie cutters to cut shapes out of felt, and use a hole punch to create the hole at the top. Then let your little ones do the rest with a range of non-toxic glitter glue.
You can also use good old-fashioned pipe-cleaners to create a range of different decorations. Twist together red and white ones and shape into a candy cane. Or red and green twisted together can easily make a wreath. You could also make a colourful chain that can hang on the tree.
As you can see, the range of eco- and budget-friendly decorations you can make yourself is only limited by your imagination and a little bit of creativity.
This year, why not say ‘no’ to the traditional toxic decorations and ‘yes’ to a cleaner, greener Christmas for everyone.