Sometimes in the whirlwind of family, friends and food, the eco-friendly habits we’ve refined throughout the year tend to slip through the cracks during the holidays. To combat some of this waste, try your hand at decking the halls with DIY, zero-waste decor from November all the way through the new year.
According to the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), Americans throw out about 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day compared to the rest of the year. This includes 38,000 miles of ribbon (more than enough to wrap around the planet) and $11 billion worth of packing material. To put it in perspective, that’s approximately 1 million extra tons of garbage each week.
While most of this waste comes from gift packaging and shopping (if you haven’t already switched to reusable bags, now is the time to start!), plenty of consumers tend to overlook the wastefulness of holiday decorations as well. Often made out of unsustainable materials like plastic and polyester, decorations are just as important as gifts to plenty of American households.
Related: Your guide to natural holiday decorations
Inhabitat collected and tested five unique holiday decorations that are completely zero-waste, cost-effective and made with recyclable, reused or natural materials. Not to mention, they look great, too! Find out how to make these zero-waste decorations and create less trash during the holidays.
Dried fruit decor
Drying holiday fruits is a fun way to bring some festive color into your home without using artificial materials. We strung ours onto a garland with 100 percent cotton thread, but they can also be hung as ornaments in the tree, intertwined into a wreath, used as a table centerpiece or wrapped around cloth napkins for table settings. Dress them up with fresh cranberries or leaves to add some texture.
To make your own dried fruits at home, you can use either an oven or a dehydrator. For the oven method, simply cut your oranges, apples or pears into slices about one to two centimeters thick. Pat the slices dry with a towel and set them onto a baking rack in an oven set to 160 °F for 4 to 6 hours, depending on thickness. Make sure to turn them every hour or so to ensure the slices are evenly dried out.
Salt dough ornaments
Sure, you might remember making salt dough ornaments as a kid, perhaps fashioning them into thick balls of unrecognizable shapes and finishing them with bright acrylic paint. These zero-waste decorations have been given a makeover with a more sophisticated look (we fell in love with these beautiful ornaments from Compost and Cava). Not only are they zero-waste, they’re completely compostable as well.
Related: 10 easy eco-friendly home decor tips
To make the salt dough, you’ll need flour, salt and warm water. To decorate the ornaments, use dried flowers, herbs or spices. For a bit of color, we made two batches and swapped the water for some leftover turmeric tea and beet juice for natural food coloring. Combine 2 cups of flour and ½ cup of salt into a mixing bowl. Then, slowly add your warm water (about ¾ of a cup) and mix or knead until it takes the consistency of play dough. If you’re using flowers to decorate the ornaments, it’s easier to mix these into the dough before rolling it out to help them stick. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough to ½-inch thick and cut it using cookie cutters. Don’t forget to use a kebab stick or a reusable straw to make a hole at the top.
You can either air-dry these for a couple days or bake them in the oven to harden. For the oven, heat it to 300 °F and bake for 1 hour, checking regularly to make sure the dough hasn’t started to brown or crack. After they’re cooked and cooled, string the ornaments with compostable twine and hang them on the tree.
Foraged wreath or garland
For your next holiday decoration, look no further than your backyard or nearby park. Gather a bundle of pine cones to place into a basket or bowl for the table, fashion branches and fruits into a table runner as a centerpiece or string them into a wreath with twine and leaves. The possibilities are endless.
Though foraging is a sustainable way to decorate your home, there are a few things to consider. Only forage in places where you have permission to do so, and know how to properly identify what you are bringing home (you wouldn’t want a wreath made of poison ivy!). Remember to forage sustainably, only taking what you need and considering the health of the tree or plant you’re taking from. Your local Christmas tree lot is a great resource as well; ask for the extra branches while they’re trimming the trees. They will be thankful for your taking the waste off their hands, and you’ll get some free evergreen foliage.
Paper roll stars
We got the idea for these pretty paper roll stars from zero-waste blogger Veraviglie. They are a perfect holiday activity for children and adults alike and use materials that you probably already have lying around your home. You’ll likely want to spend some time collecting finished paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls for this craft, depending on how many stars you want to make. We asked a few family and friends to hang onto theirs for us instead of tossing them in the recycling bin.
Related: Simple DIY upcycled holiday decor
Fold the tubes lengthwise and cut into equal 1-centimeter pieces along the shorter side, and use a water-based, eco-friendly glue (you can also make your own by boiling cornstarch and water on the stove) to make stars.
Use a candle made of biodegradable wax, such as beeswax or soy, and materials such as coffee beans or herbs that can be reused or composted at the end of the season.
For our decorated candles, we used compostable jute twine, cinnamon sticks and holly leaves. It added an extra touch of holiday cheer with the festive cinnamon smell as well. For coffee drinkers, fill up a mason jar with your favorite beans and add a tea candle on top. As the candle warms the beans, your house will be filled with the delicious scent of coffee.
Images via Katherine Gallagher / Inhabitat