Plastic ornaments, strands of electricity-hogging lights, trees chopped down by the millions: Christmas decorating isn't exactly known as environmentally friendly.
But, say design experts, there are plenty of ways to bring the sparkle and style of the season into your home without increasing your carbon footprint.
BRING OUTDOORS IN
Search outside, says Atlanta-based interior designer Mallory Mathison, for natural materials such as "leaves, branches, cones of all types and berries." She creates holiday centerpieces by filling bowls or baskets with fresh fruits and vegetables. Try an assortment of crimson and golden pears, Mathison says, or go red and green with pomegranates and artichokes.
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With pine cones, "collect as many different types as possible. They need to be dry, so lay them out in the attic or garage." Try displaying them, she says, in large silver bowls, long trays or "a big, funky pottery bowl."
Designer Brian Patrick Flynn, of the TBS series "Movie and a Makeover," says many vendors of live Christmas trees will offer cut branches for free. "I like to turn those into my own wreath. If you Google 'basket weaving,' there are easy instructions online," he says. "It's great for those people who love something organic, because your entire wreath is made up of real tree branches."
If you're buying a live Christmas tree, consider one that can be replanted after the holidays. Some are available in pots, others have their roots tied up loosely in fabric.
"They're usually shorter than the cut variety because they have the root ball," says Mathison. "So use a large clay or metal container to boost the tree up to your preferred height. Drape the container with fabulous fabric or wrap it in paper. If you have small children, let them decorate the paper with white snowflakes or hand prints."
Another eco-conscious strategy: Look for a "Charlie Brown Christmas tree," says Flynn, "the tiny one nobody wants, all beat up and half dead." Rather than letting a tree like that go to waste, he suggests buying it and giving it new life.
"If I find a little, tiny blue spruce, with the top healthy, bottom dead, I turn it into a mini tree and play up the idea of the 'Charlie Brown Christmas' - sparse and chic," he says. "Then dress it up with super graphic, vintage ornaments."
When the holidays are over, be sure to bring live, cut trees to a recycling center that will turn them into reusable wood chips, says Sabrina Soto, host of HGTV's "Real Estate Intervention" and a LEED-certified (green) designer.
WHAT'S OLD IS NEW AGAIN
"Everyone thinks eco-friendly means everything has to be made out of 'sustainable this' and 'sustainable that,'" Soto says. "But going to the thrift store is eco-friendly."
Flynn agrees, and says the selection is excellent: "You'd be shocked how much Christmas inventory flea markets have. They have it year-round, so you can find it so cheap."
If you find mismatched, transparent Christmas balls at a thrift shop, Soto says you can make them work even if they don't quite fit your decor. Change their look by unscrewing the top, pouring in a few drops of eco-friendly paint and swirling it around. The color will show through, giving the group of ornaments a cohesive look that matches the rest of your tree. It's a perfect technique for someone, like Soto, who loves a monochromatic tree but doesn't want to buy newly made ornaments.
Flynn searches flea markets for old holiday record albums. Group a few - anything from Barbra Streisand to Perry Como to Alvin and the Chipmunks - together on a coffee table. Or laminate them to use as placemats. They're conversation starters during holiday parties, he says, and many flea markets offer them for as little as $1 each.
Flynn also loves finding kitschy aluminum pompom Christmas trees and other vintage artificial pieces, "like the tacky '60s, early '70s trees in bubblegum pink and black. You'd be so shocked at how cool those black trees look with all white ornaments."
Also, says Soto, search etsy.com and elsewhere online for decorations made by crafters who work with recycled or sustainable materials. Or make your own: She suggests wrapping old tennis balls in scraps of old sweaters, then securing the fabric by tying it with colorful yarn. "Or try angels made from organic cotton," she says, "or stringing popcorn or cranberries."
LET THERE BE LIGHT
Soto recommends swapping out old strands of Christmas lights for energy-saving LED lights. They're easy to find at Target or other retailers, she says.
Got burned-out bulbs from old strands of lights? Or strands that work but you no longer use? Flynn suggests displaying them in a glass vase.
And for lots of shine with minimal electricity, use ornaments that catch light and reflect it. Put the word out among friends that you're seeking glass or crystal pendants from old light fixtures, and comb secondhand shops for these pieces. Once you've collected a few, attach ornament hooks and drape them on sturdy tree branches.
"They add so much sparkle," says Mathison, "and you can cut down on the number of strings of lights."