4 Environmentally Friendly Holiday Ideas to Try in Your Home

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Plate with Christmas Decoration, directly above
Vstock LLC/Getty ImagesEliminating wasteful holiday spending can save money and help the environment by reducing how much is thrown away.
The holidays are a time when we spend a good deal of money on gifts that are ignored within weeks or even hours, cards and wrapping paper that are quickly tossed out, and centerpieces that end up in the garbage after dinner.

By trimming your spending, you can reduce waste -- and save money that can be spent on more lasting improvements to your home's decor.


There are many ways to conserve on resources and create gifts, cards and table settings that are kinder to the environment and add a very personal and caring touch to the holidays. Here are just a few environmentally friendly ideas. You can use your own talents and creativity to come up with many more.

1. Save lots of money and paper by wrapping gifts with materials you have at home. Millions of pounds of newspapers end up in landfills each year. But newspapers make wonderful wrapping paper. The black-and-white sections -- as well as the more colorful parts of the paper -- make fun wrapping for gifts. Collect ribbons from other gifts during the year and use those ribbons to create attractive packages.

2. Make gifts instead of buying them. Homemade gifts are so much more special and individualized. Baked cookies, cakes, crackers and candy are welcomed gifts, along with relish, hummus or whatever your special recipe might be.

Years ago, I had remarkable pretzels in a restaurant in New York. For years I looked for a way to duplicate the recipe. Several months ago, a friend gave me a cookbook,
"Pasta Modern" by Francine Segan, that had the exact recipe I was looking for. These pretzels make a perfect centerpiece and hostess gift for the holidays. Buy an attractive mug or small vase, and put the sticks in it. They can be served plain, with just a sprinkle of salt, or try them with spices like ground garlic, cayenne or smoked paprika.

Pasta Modern by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)These pasta pretzel sticks make delicious appetizers.

Pasta Pretzel Sticks
Courtesy of "Pasta Modern" by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)


Serves 4 to 6

Olive oil or butter

1/4 pound perciatelli, bucatelli or other long pasta, preferably Garofalo brand

Salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until tender, a minute longer than al dente. Drain and toss with 2 tablespoons of oil or butter. Lay the pasta strands onto the prepared sheet in straight lines, with a bit of space between each. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden and crisp, about 8 minutes.


Handcrafted gifts are always very special. Knitters and crocheters can make a variety of wonderful gifts. Warm blankets, socks, hats and leggings can be made out of leftover yarns from other projects. Another wonderful gift is a phone pouch. I developed this idea several months ago when I got tired of carrying my phone around in my hand or pocket (where I often didn't hear it ring). I've given them to many friends as a gift with very happy responses. This is a hands-free way to carry a cell phone and can be made out of leftover yarn.

Phone Pouch
Sheri KoonesHandcrafted phone pouches make a very unique gift.

The number of stitches will depend on the yarn and size of the phone. Measure the phone's height and width. With knitting worsted yarn and size 8 needles, cast on approximately 28 stitches. (These can be made with any yarn or combination of yarns -- just make sure the gauge works for the size of the phone.) Knit 4 rows in stockinette stitch (St st). Then knit 3 rows in knit to create a turning row. Continue to work in stockinette stitch for the length of the phone. Cast off. Fold over the turning row and sew the seam at the top to form a finished end. Then sew the sides together to form a round pouch and then sew the bottom seams together, keeping the vertical seam in the back of the pouch. Make an I-cord the length you would like the phone to hang and then attach the ends to the inner sides of the pouch. (An I-cord is a knitted tube. Cast on 3 stitches on #4 double pointed needles. Easy instructions for making an I-cord can be found on this YouTube video.

3. Make holiday cards or invitations. Homemade cards are very personal and economical. They can also use up some of the leftover papers and other items (lace, buttons, stickers) you have around the house. There are a multitude of stamps, punches and other items available to help make creating cards very simple. Greetings can even be printed with a computer printer to make the greetings personalized. The magazine The Stampers' Sampler is filled with a multitude of seasonal ideas.

4. Decorate the table with bright fruits and vegetables. Flowers and purchased centerpieces are often thrown away. But fruits and vegetables look beautiful in a bowl or platter and can be eaten or used for cooking after the holiday dinner is done. One centerpiece I've found to be particularly attractive at this time of year is a glass bowl filled with cranberries and water. Add a few floating candles and it makes a colorful and festive addition to the table. The holiday season can be a time for family to participate in projects to make the table beautiful and the gifts personal -- and without creating more waste than necessary. After all, creating from reused materials is also a gift to the earth.
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