Christmas Decorations and Gift Wrap

Several years ago my pre-lit Christmas tree lights began to go out. Eventually two entire tiers (of three) burned out. My mom came by and cut all the original lights off of the tree and we strung a single strand through each tier. I bought a Christmas tree bag so we could lay the tiers in more gently than stuffing them back in the original tree box and it’s working great! As you can see we did not string as many lights as the tree originally had and we got a softer light, but it still looks nice and we have great light.

So if your pre-lit Christmas tree lights go out, and there are too many to replace with the single replacement bulbs, consider re-stringing the tree yourself. It did take my mom two hours to cut them all off as there were 1,000 lights and they were really woven into the branches, but the greenery is still in excellent condition (and it’s hard to find slim trees) so the tree was worth saving. I also recommend buying several more boxes of lights than you expect to use in order to match the shade/luminosity of the lights. We used three strands but went through eight boxes to find three whose shades matched.

If you are tired of your fake Christmas tree (you want a new style, shape, height, color, etc.) consider donating your tree to an organization looking for one (Craigslist, Freecycle, non-profit, church groups, etc.), or put it up on a Buy Nothing group or your neighborhood platform. Burnt-out string lights can be recycled at the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center at the Electronics station. I posted darker strand lights I didn’t need that work on the Buy Nothing Facebook group for my area, and they were gone in 10 minutes!

There are many arguments for fake vs a real tree (and real can mean cut or potted). Real trees can sequester carbon dioxide, they’re replaced with new trees as they’re cut down, and the cut tree is typically composted. Fake trees are mostly plastic and are land-filled. If you don’t want your ornaments sappy or you are allergic to all the trees (me!), consider getting a nice potted plant (Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home decorates a topiary), a cardboard or wooden tree, a wall decal, get creative and go out of the box, or go with a fake Christmas tree, but buy a sturdy one and take care of it.

Here are several reusable gift wrapping ideas. Don’t forget these can be changed for the occasion (e.g. birthdays, Valentine’s, Easter, etc.) with different fabrics or box patterns. The reusable cloth bags will probably hold up longest as they can be stored flat, ironed, repaired, embroidered, etc. Stephanie and I both reuse bows and with cloth bags Stephanie can use the bow to help change the size and shape of the cloth bag to fit to the present.

Flap boxes, available at craft stores and Tuesday Mornings-type stores, are paper boxes of thick cardboard with a flap that is held closed with strong magnets. These are pretty sturdy: I’ve dropped them putting them into and getting them out of the car and they didn’t ding or scratch much. They can fit inside each other and be stored in boxes, tubs, or as-is. They’re typically rectangles or cubes. You would need to cut the magnets out of the box before tossing the box into the recycling cart. I store tissue paper and gauze or satin ribbons inside to reuse. Wired ribbon also holds up well and is reusable, but it would be trashed at some point because of the plastic/metal mix. I’m optimistic I could steam and/or iron the fabric bows until they needed to be recycled with other textiles. A paper gift bag can be reused as well, but it’s more delicate and won’t stand up to too many uses. I always use the same box/bag for the same person but you could always make a reusable gift tag to tie onto the ribbon or into the ribbon instead of using those To/From stickers which lose stick after a year in storage anyway (or is this just me?).

Don’t forget you can save money with non-holiday “wrapping paper” like brown paper or white butcher paper. Brown paper grocery bags can be reused if you wrap the bag’s inside on the outside of the gift. You and the kids can get crafty with markers, stamps, paint, etc. Austin Creative Reuse and Buy Nothing groups are another great way to find wrapping/gift materials at super low prices (or free) without buying new and having to deal with plastic over-wrap, which can go in plastic bag recycling at a store, but still less waste is less waste. Wrapping paper with glitter or foil is not recyclable. Please put it in your trash cart. Please try to use non-metallic non-glittery paper. Newspaper is an old stand-by, old maps and posters, fabric swatches, we’ve even used Christmas blankets and pillow cases with ribbon to wrap gifts.

Peel ‘n Stick Gift Bows are plastic but cannot be recycled. These go in the trash. They also don’t store well (i.e. get squashed), unless you are amazingly gifted like my mom, so consider ribbon, keeping in mind to store the ribbon as gently as you can as well. Most ribbon should go in the trash once it is no longer usable.

Tissue Paper (for gift wrap not facial tissue) can be recycled in the blue recycling carts. Try to reuse it as much as you can, but once you are satisfied it’s lived it’s usefulness, please recycle.

Ornaments and decorations are also available at low cost at Austin Creative Reuse , and many second hand/thrift stores, and for free on Buy Nothing groups. Your neighborhood forums are great places to look for items too. Maybe you could host a decorations swap!

If you are going au naturel, please be careful and consider all components of your decorations. If you string popcorn or berries the thread/string is usually a polyester/cotton blend, and we don’t have permission to compost thread/string, though the berries and popcorn may go in the compost carts (microwavable popcorn bags can be composted too!). Maybe rinse the string and save it for the next year? Popsicle sticks and pine cones can be composted, but not if they’re covered in paint, glue, and glitter (plastics). Paper garland should be recycled since it will have tape, glue or staples in it.

Battery-operated candle

Most flame candles are made of paraffin, usually petroleum which is commonly used to make plastics. If you can reheat the wax to be reused in another candle or project that’s great, otherwise it should go in the trash. I’m waiting to see if beeswax and soy candle bits can be composted, but in the meantime if you can’t find a reuse for wax bits like cleaning or remelting, and don’t want to wait for the answer, err on the side of caution and trash it. I’ve been told by Austin Resource Recovery staff that anything with a battery can be recycled in the City of Austin, so broken battery-operated candles can be taken to the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center at the Electronics station.

Did I miss anything? What clever and creative ideas are you implementing for greener holidays?

Happy Holidays to you and yours!