THE BLOG
12/16/2013 12:24 EST | Updated 02/15/2014 05:59 EST

This Holiday Season, Deck the Halls Without the Toxics

The holiday season is upon us. While you're getting into the festive spirit by hanging up decorations or buying gifts for loved ones, there is chance that something not-so-festive could sneak into your home: toxic chemicals. Some of these chemicals have links to cancer, obesity, asthma, and a slew of other health problems.

Here are some tips on how to create a jolly, and non-toxic, atmosphere in your home this holiday season:

Decorate the green way

Toxic chemicals can hide in festive items such as holiday trees, lights, and ornaments.

Phthalates can be found in plastic holiday ornaments, as well as scented items like candles. Phthalates are a group of chemicals linked to asthma, they can be a risk factor for diabetes, and one phthalate -- DEHP -- has been classified as a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Scary stuff, but you can easily make your home smell like the holidays the natural way by using essential oils, cinnamon sticks, and evergreen branches.

When it comes to decorations, au natural is also best. Choose ornaments made of natural materials such as metal, wood or ceramic. Or, for family fun, make your own! Here are some ideas:

  • Try crafting your own ornaments from things found in nature, like real evergreen branches, pine cones, chestnuts, sticks, twigs, pumpkins and gourds. You can compost these afterwards.

  • Let your kids make decorations out of coloured construction paper. That way you can recycle the paper later
.

  • Re-use outgrown or worn-out cotton, linen or wool clothes to make your own holiday stockings or table runners.

One more thing to note: if you like to have a holiday tree, beware of fake ones- especially older ones - because they can contain lead and PVC (polyvinyl chloride). In California, most artificial trees are required to come with a warning label for this very reason. Research has shown that lead dust tends to leach out from fake trees over time. If you buy a real tree, ask your local tree farm if they use pesticides. If the tree still has roots, even better. You can plant it when you're done!

Choose non-toxic gifts

From toys to electronics, there is a chance that whatever is on your loved one's wish list, it might include nasty chemicals.

Looking for bubble bath, soap or other personal care products to give as a gift? These products can also contain toxic ingredients -- some of which have been linked to cancer, allergies and other health problems. You can find a list of the Toxic Ten chemicals to avoid in personal care products by visiting environmentaldefence.ca/toxicten. Also read our latest report to find out how the five biggest cosmetics companies in Canada rank when it comes to toxics.

Kids are exposed to harmful chemicals when they put toys into their mouths. This is a concern because kids, and in particular babies, are vulnerable to environmental toxins because their biological systems are still developing. While shopping for toys, choose items that are made from natural materials such as wood, stainless steel and organic cotton.

Give the gift of nature

The best part of the holiday season is getting together and spending time with friends and family. It doesn't mean we have to spend money, or bring unwanted chemicals into the home, to do so. Plan an outing such as skating, skiing or snowshoeing and take advantage of the beautiful nature in your area. Also, check out Environmental Defence's Gifts for the Future to find meaningful gifts that inspire change and defend our environment.

By following the above simple tips, you can go a long way to making this holiday season festive and toxic-free. Want more ideas? Check out our Storify for highlights from our recent Twitter chat on the topic that we co-hosted with the Green Moms Collective.

We wish you and your family a happy, and toxic-free, holiday season.