The holidays will soon come sweeping into every home with good food, family visits, and festivities of all kinds. As you set out to deck the halls, however, remember to be conscious of the materials and foods you bring into the home. Many of the usual holiday decorations, feasts, and sweet-smelling candles can introduce toxins and other unhealthy elements into your home.
Although it may not feel very festive to analyze the environmental and health consequences of your old holiday decorations, you may reconsider when you hear the facts. According to a study by environmental non-profit The Ecology Center, two-thirds or more of the holiday-themed products at major retailers contain dangerous levels of one or more of the following contaminants:
- Flame retardants
Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens and they are all prohibited for use in family-targeted products because of links to birth defects, asthma, and learning disabilities in small children. Yet, chemicals like these are hiding in most of our holiday decorations. It may be time to switch them out for cleaner, nontoxic alternatives. Below we’ve listed a few ideas to make your festivities healthy and sustainable in the coming season.
1. Picking the Right Tree
Christmas tree farming is a dirty business. Many tree farms use toxic pesticides, anti-disease agents, and even chemicals to artificially enhance color. Not only is this a risky product to bring into your home, it is also an industry that damages local farmland and wildlife. To reduce the environmental and toxic impact of your tree, choose one that is FSC-certified or approved by the Soil Association. Always remember to recycle used Christmas trees or, even better, buy a potted tree and then replant it outdoors after the holiday season.
2. Artificial Trees
If real trees aren’t your thing, beware of the PVC-based artificial tree. Most mainstream artificial trees are made out of PVC plastic, a material that is both toxic and terrible for the environment. Try instead for a recyclable polyethylene (PE) tree or a modern-style holiday tree made from recycled or sustainable materials, like wood or cardboard.
3. Replace Petroleum-Based Candles
There’s nothing more cozy than a holiday candle that emits fragrances of apple pies, but most candles are made of paraffin or other petroleum-based products along with artificial fragrances that pollute the air. Instead opt for all-natural soy or beeswax candles that are infused with delicious natural scents like cinnamon and rosemary.
4. Fireplace Risks
A merry crackling fire will add instant ambiance to any gathering or family night, but it can wreak havoc on indoor air quality. Wood-burning fires release large quantities of carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and benzene straight into your living room. Natural gas fires are much less toxic. If you can’t give up the occasional fireplace blaze, try recycled pre-made logs such as Enviro-logs or Java Logs, which are made from recycled materials and burn 80% cleaner than traditional wood fires. A sealed glass door over the fireplace or wood stove can also protect your home from smoke and airborne soot.
5. Healthy Feasting
Most of us associate the holidays with family feasts, heaping plates of food, and sugar-packed desserts. The result is a lot of New Year’s resolutions to lose the holiday-induced weight gain. This year, keep your feasts but look for ways to make your favorite dishes healthier. For turkey and other meats, search out local organic farms with good animal welfare practices and support conscientious farmers as opposed to hormone-laden factory farm products. You can also swap out white flour for almond flour or whole grain varieties, and substitute sugar with maple syrup or natural honey. Love pumpkin pie? Swap it out for natural pumpkin pudding, and try eating roasted sweet potatoes instead of sweet potato casserole. There are plenty of ways to keep your favorite foods without the unnecessary refined sugars, grains, and calories. And you might feel better too!
6. Food as Decoration
One quick and easy way to infuse your home with holiday vibes is to use fragrant foods as decoration. Instead of tinsel or plastic beads, try strings of dried apples, orange slices, and cranberries. Swap out artificial potpourri with your own homemade version, which could include ingredients like dried orange peels, cinnamon sticks, and pine sprigs. Create instant air fresheners by sticking whole cloves into fresh oranges and placing them throughout the house.
7. DIY Decor
Besides foods, many other natural materials can be used to replace old or toxic holiday decor. Ditch the plastic wreath and easily create your own by clipping off the lowest boughs of your holiday tree or a nearby pine. In fact, pine boughs make a versatile and easy-to-source decorative element throughout the home. Arrange them in vases with berry sprigs or tie them with ribbon and place them along the mantle. Pine cones, gourds, winter squash, birch logs, acorns, fall leaves, holly leaves and berries, and mistletoe are all excellent natural alternatives to bring the holidays into your home.
Happy decorating, and feel free to browse the Living Clean blog for more tips on maintaining a clean and healthy lifestyle:
- Ways to Make Your Home a Safe and Healthy Haven
- Decorate Your Home with Nontoxic and Sustainable Alternatives