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Celebrate holidays with 'green' on your mind
Upcycle gifts to cut down on waste and use outdoor plants to deck your halls
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Environmantallly friendly Christmas decorations adorn the walls of Occasions Florist. Some of the decorations include wreaths, floral arrangements, ornaments and potted plants. - photo by Erin O. Smith

As we get closer and closer to the height of the holiday season, being excited for Father Christmas is no excuse to forget about Mother Nature.

The bright lights and loud noises of consumerism may be on overdrive right now, but a green, environmentally friendly Christmas is easier to achieve that it may seem.

Making the home look festive is the easiest way to respect the environment and enjoy the results at the same time.

“Just use natural elements, pine cones, things that are around and available to you (to decorate),” said Carol Slaughter, owner of Occasions Florist on Washington Street in Gainesville. “Collect the greenery off of trees that you have in your own yard.”

Holiday wreaths can be easily crafted from the elements in your yard. Pine cones can woven into a wreath as is or can be spray-painted for a more ethereal look. For an unexpected natural twist, magnolia leaves can be spray-painted with a clear coat of polyurethane to last the whole season.

If you have a garden, dried vegetables can make great bases for homemade ornaments.

“Okra was a big thing for us this year,” Slaughter said. “You can make Santa Clauses out of okra and other dried garden stuff.”

The centerpiece of the holiday — the Christmas tree — can be the most natural and most important ways to show love for Mother Nature.

“Our statistics show that out of 50 million Christmas trees (used annually), only about 20 million of those are actually recycled,” Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center programming director Jason West said. “As you get rid of your Christmas tree, there are organizations that will grind them up or find another purpose for it. Little things like that make a big difference when a lot of people do them.”

Slaughter recommends keeping your tree close after the holiday season ends. So close, in fact, it shouldn’t even leave your backyard.

“Use potted evergreens,” Slaughter said. “You want to use something you can plant back into your environment.”

Teaching children how to have an environmentally friendly holiday was on the goals of the “Green Your Christmas” educational experience at the EHC in Buford.

“We do emphasize that at this particular period of the year there is a lot of waste,” EHC’s West said. “Statistics tell us that from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the level of household waste increases by 25 percent. That’s food waste, packaging, shopping bags, things of that nature.”

West said residents may follow several simple steps to limit or decrease the amount of waste.

“We encourage people to take a step back and think about what they’re doing,” West said. “People can certainly look at upcycling. Look at how you wrap your gifts.”

Instead of buying flashy wrapping paper that will be thrown away as soon as the gifts are open, presents can be wrapped in newspaper or kraft paper to cut down on the amount of waste. In addition to regifting items you no longer use, spruce them up before passing them to friends or family. It is a new trend called upcycling.

“(Upcycling) is where you take something old and refresh or repurpose it to offer as a gift,” he said.

Furniture and artwork are two popular categories of items to upcycle. A quick search through Pinterest will reveal a treasure trove of inspiration and instruction on upcycling everything from a few Mason jars to an old medicine cabinet.

Christmas cards can be beautiful and entertaining, but they’re also one of the season’s greatest sources of paper waste.

“Lot of cards that are sent out, and all those are made from paper,” West said. “People may want to consider, in the electronic age, save some paper, send an electronic card this year.”

Several online services can help residents take their card-sending game to the next level.

For more information, visit www.gwinnettehc.org.

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