6 Green Alternatives to Toxic Holiday Decorations
Every Christmas season, U.S. consumers purchase tons of cheaply made garland, wrappings and ornaments that are chock-full of toxic chemicals. Why not try a green approach to holiday decorating this year that is gentler on the environment and is far more beautiful.
Here are, courtesy of Care2, six common holiday decorations that contain harmful chemicals or unsustainable ingredients, as well as eco-friendlier alternatives you can use to achieve the same look.
1. Artificial Christmas trees. If you’re going to use a fake tree (and there are many green reasons to do so), it’s important to choose carefully. Until recently, artificial Christmas trees were cut from compressed sheets of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a known human carcinogen. Now some tree makers have switched to injection-molded polyethylene plastic, which is safer but still plastic.
Alternatives: Use this guide from SoftLanding to choose a non-PVC artificial tree. Or choose to decorate a living pesticide-free tree, bush or houseplant that will continue to clean your indoor air long after the holidays are over.
2. Spray-on snow. If you live in a region that doesn’t get much winter snow, you might be tempted to pick up a can of faux snow to give your windows and tree a just-frosted look. But many snow sprays contain acetone or methylene chloride and these solvents can be harmful when inhaled while spraying, according to California Poison Control. However, once the snow spray is dried, it is not dangerous.
Alternatives: Try cutting decorative snowflakes out of paper. You can use them again next year if you’re careful. You can also use cotton batting (sold at craft stores as stuffing for quilts and pillows) to create faux snow drifts along windowsills or around the tree.
3. Vintage ornaments. Like many things made before the time of health and environmental regulations, these pretty baubles can be hiding a toxic secret. They’ve been known to contain lead paint or mercury. Some are even called mercury glass ornaments. Even newer ornaments bearing the “Made in China” label can contain lead or toxic paints.
Alternatives: Consider wearing rubber gloves when you handle the old ornaments, or at least wash your hands right after. If you’re in need of new ornaments this year, think about making your own from natural or upcycled materials.
4. String lights. It’s nearly impossible to imagine the holidays without lights—those twinkling, blinking strings of color that adorn everything from tree to porch. Sadly, 54 percent of holiday lights tested in a U.S. study had more lead than regulators permit in children’s products, with some strands containing more than 30 times those levels, according to a recent report by Bloomberg. Lead is a common component in vinyl, the material used to coat light wirings and bulb sockets, according to HealthyStuff.org, which tested the lights.
Alternatives: Adults only should handle light strings and with care. If you’re in the market for new lights, look for LED strands sold by IKEA or on EnvironmentalLights.com. IKEA’s light strings satisfy the stricter European Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) regulations, while some brands sold by Environmental Lights claim to be lead-free.
5. Wrapping paper. While most wrapping paper and ribbons are non-toxic, foil and colored gift-wrap have been known to contain lead, making them dangerous to touch and even worse for the environment after they’re thrown away. And never burn holiday wrapping paper in the fireplace.
Alternatives: Make your own. Wrapping paper only lasts a few minutes anyway, and there are lots of other ways to prevent eyeballs from deciphering what’s inside the package. Check out these alternatives to gift wrapping paper.
6. Candles. Many types of candles pollute indoor air and put our health at risk. Most of the candles on the market are made with paraffin wax, derived from petroleum, and scented with synthetic fragrances, also derived from petroleum. Researchers have found that the petroleum-based candles emitted varying levels of cancer-causing toluene and benzene, as well as other hydrocarbon chemicals called alkanes and alkenes, which are components of gasoline and can irritate respiratory tracts and trigger asthma, reports Moms Clean Air Force.
Alternatives: Look for candles made from soybean, palm, hemp or beeswax—or make your own fragrant holiday candles using natural ingredients. Here are some recipes to make your own.
Want to make your own decorations? Remember the four Ps of holiday decorating from the Nature Conservancy's Nature Rocks project: Paper, plants, popcorn and pinecones. These natural and recycled materials are better for the planet, are prettier than manufactured products and creating them with your children or a friend is an enjoyable way to spend time during the holidays.
Visit EcoWatch’s TIPS page for more related news on this topic.
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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