Zero-Waste Holiday Decor for the Home

Reader Contribution by Letitia Star
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Letitia L. Star has written more than 1,100 published articles, including many green living features for Natural Home & Garden, The Herb Companion and GRIT magazines. She specializes in writing effective marketing newsletters and web materials for green product companies, green non-profits, and health food companies. Contact Letitia at or visit her website at

In this exclusive report, I chat with two top green living experts for their zero-waste holiday tips: Gina Murphy-Darling (a.k.a. Mrs. Green), owner of Mrs. Green’s World,and Corey Colwell Lipson, co-author of Celebrate Greenand director of the non-profit Green Halloween. Plus, I provide a tantalizing glimpse into our nation’s past to learn how American colonists in 18th-century Colonial Williamsburg traditionally celebrated the holidays–without generating tons of toxic landfill garbage.

Live plants star in the Christmas decorations at Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Why Zero-Waste?

“Americans throw away tons of garbage the week after Christmas, including wrapping paper and packaging,” comments Mrs. Green. “Last year, we found colorful reusable gift bags which look so pretty under the tree. Even with eight people, we had less than one small bag of trash. Reuse Christmas packaging and decorations every year–just don’t just mindlessly throw everything in the trash.”

“One of the stereotypes is that green is ugly. But green can be beautiful at Christmas. It’s an old-fashioned message that people delight in,” she adds.

Grow Your Decor

During the holiday season, the historic homes in Colonial Williamsburg, located in Williamsburg, Virginia, recreate 18th-century décor with sumptuous wreaths, cones, swags, roping and kissing balls for mantels, stairways, doorways, windows and tables. What’s striking is the creative, elegant use of all-natural fresh and dried plant material, including many types of fresh fruit. Live topiaries made of ivy and moss adorn tables and hallways.

Two excellent books on the subject are: Christmas Decorations from Williamsburg and Williamsburg Christmas published by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

In the 21st century, small live houseplants that make perfect holiday décor (while cleaning indoor air) are: rosemary topiaries, (in ball or Christmas tree shapes), sweet bay laurel plants, cypress plants, frosty or holly ferns, dwarf olive plants and Norfolk Island pines.

“Decorate the holiday table with live plants,” says Mrs. Green. “I also take Christmas evergreen boughs and lace them with red and gold ribbons that bend and last forever. I save and reuse the ribbons year after year.”

Use a food dehydrator to dry fruits and vegetables for use as Christmas decorations.

Eat Your Decor

“Edible decor is a concept that we came up with to encourage people to save money, save time and create less waste. Beautiful edible decor can be later eaten, composted–or both,” says Colwell-Lipson, whose site Celebrate Greenprovides green celebration strategies for many holidays throughout the year.

Quick-and-easy suggestions for traditional handmade decorations:

• Mulling spice potpourri: Place an organic, pre-made mix in a decorative bowl. Then reuse the mulling spices to make warm mulled wine or fruit juice, which will create wonderful aromas in your home. Mulled wine, ale and apple cider were popular festive drinks in the American colonies.

See the article “Warm Up with Winter Drinks” from the Dec/Jan 2012 issue of The Herb Companion for a recipe for mulled wine with herbs

• Dried fruits and vegetables: Use a hydrator to dry produce; then cut into cross sections. String together with cranberries and hang as a garland. Reuse for many years,” recommends Colwell-Lipson, adding that dried fruit is also a delicious snack.

• Fresh fruit candle holders: “Carve out pears and apples and place beeswax votives inside,” suggests Colwell-Lipson. “When you’re done, simply remove any soft spots from the fruit before consuming.”

Images: Photos Courtesy The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation