Decorations are a way to show the world what it is you are celebrating, helping set a mood or fun theme for your event. Human’s love for decorating has carried for thousands of years and I doubt it’s something that will stop.
The act of decorating is part of the ritual that comes with many holidays. The downside is how
we’re now sold the need to buy new decorations every year and discard the old ones from the year before without thinking about the resources, energy and emissions pilfered to be used once and then discarded.
The most sustainable decorations are always going to be what we already own and what exists. Thrift stores stock secondhand Christmas decorations, including wrapping paper, gift tags and Christmas cards. You can also look online like Facebook Marketplace, Ebay and Craigslist too. Hosting a Christmas decoration swap with friends or in the local neighbourhood is another way to update decorations for your home without having to buy brand new. Turn it into a festive get together by setting out some food and playing music.
Opt for foraged decorations and get outside with the family for a fun walk around the neighbourhood or park. Look for items that make interesting centrepieces, can be used in wreaths or hung about the house. After the holidays these plastic-free local options can be composted, putting nutrients back into the ground, truly zero-waste. Mix foraged natural decorations with edible food, using fruit as centrepieces or drying out cirtus in the oven then string up around the house adding antique charm. Popcorn threaded with string makes for suitable tree garlands that to can be composted. We like to make salt dough ornaments in different shapes each year too.
You might want to take it up a level and upcycle found objects into decorations guaranteed to start a conversation about reducing waste. Turn old magazines into small Christmas trees, glass jars adorned with ribbon and a candle inside. If you enjoy getting crafty, most cities have craft rescue or salvage stores where craft supplies have been saved from landfill and sold at a discounted price. To find one close to you, search the internet or call local craft stores.
I’d like to end this with a reminder that it is also OK to want to buy new stuff, since some people
might not have the desire to upcycle or shop secondhand or perhaps you don’t own any decorations at all but would like to start somewhere. In this case I encourage getting into the habit of asking questions before making a purchase. Questions I ask are: Do I really need this? Is it useful? Where was it made and what materials were used? Was it ethically made under fair working conditions? What will happen at the end of its life: can it be recycled or reused, or will it end up in landfill? Look to see how purchasing new can support a local community, source independent sellers in your area at or on places like Ebay.com and Kuttlefish.com.
While you are decorating your own house with sustainability in mind, don’t forget to get active and contact companies that sell unsustainable decorations asking them change their mindset and practices too. Write letters, start a conversation with them via twitter or email. We can’t be the only ones to change our habits when it comes to fighting the war on waste.
Erin Rhoads has been writing about her zero-waste journey since 2013. Her blog, TheRogueGinger, quickly became one of Australia’s most popular eco-lifestyle websites, and Erin is now a prominent commentator on zero-waste living. She is on a mission to engage with individuals to redefine what is waste and how to create less of it in her booked-out talks and workshops around the country. Erin is the author of Waste Not: How to Make a Difference by Throwing Away Less (Hardie Grant), was a consultant on Australia’s popular TV show War on Waste and is a regular contributor for ABC Radio. She has been featured on BBC World, The Project, Sunrise, Morning Show, Marie Claire, Australian Women’s Weekly, the Age, the Guardian, Peppermint magazine, and many more.