In many countries around the world, Christmas time means piles and piles of discarded red, green and gold wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, cards, artificial Christmas trees, ornaments, home décor, etcetera, etcetera. In America, waste increases by more than 25% between Thanksgiving and New Years. That means an additional 25 million tons of garbage in the landfill over just a few short weeks. In the UK, every festive season, 365,000 kilometers of wrapping paper is thrown away. That’s enough to wrap around the world nine times! And this time of year in Australia, more than 5 million tons of uneaten food goes straight in the trash. You can clearly see that this is more than just a local problem; it’s global. How about we give up some of that stuff this year and shoot for a Green Christmas instead? With the holiday season quickly approaching, we think it’s a perfect time to touch on the topic of a sustainable holiday season. Reducing your environmental impact during the holiday season can be easily done if you are willing to put in a little effort and imagination. By simply buying less, thinking green, food prepping and using alternative methods of wrapping and decorating, we can continue with all our favorite holiday traditions, while side-lining the trash. Here are some ideas, tips and tricks to help celebrate this upcoming season while caring for the environment at the same time. The Gift of Giving When you think of Christmas, you probably think of gifts as well. We are so focused on how many presents we can fit under the tree that we’ve lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas. Our consumer culture drowns out the Christmas spirit and many of the gifts we give are completely unnecessary, unwanted, and get tossed out before they even get used. This year, we suggest that you try buying less and being more intentional with your purchases. Think Quality over Quantity. The best place to start is right in your hometown! Look for locally made gifts and support small businesses in your area. Transportation is the number one contributor to global warming and greenhouse emissions, so if you can, avoid buying gifts that need to be shipped from the other side of the planet. Local boutiques, small-scale artisans and craft fairs are a great place to find unique, meaningful gifts that don’t come with the added costs of transportation. Plus, knowing the whole story of the where your gift comes from and who made it can make your gift that much more special. In the spirit of sustainability, try avoiding gifts that contain batteries. According to the EPA, about 40% of all battery sales occur during the holidays, and e-waste, including batteries, is hazardous to the environment. If you need to buy batteries for a special gift, try rechargeable ones instead, but be careful, because even these will find their way into the waste stream at some point. One of my personal favorites is giving second-hand gifts. Considering the fact that more than 80% of the things we buy will never be used or will be discarded after a very short life cycle, this really should be the future of gift giving. Second-hand doesn’t have to mean damaged or heavily used goods either. There are so many unused items on the second-hand market, that if you spend even just a few minutes searching the many available platforms, you can surely find the item you are looking for in great or even new condition. Thrift stores are obviously a great place to find vintage and unique gifts as well. Of course, recycled and up-cycled gifts are great sustainable options. Up-cycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted items into new materials or products. Supporting businesses that make goods from up-cycled and recycled materials helps reduce the waste stream while promoting the concept of reusing and should be a top priority when shopping for gifts. If we work on normalizing second-hand, recycled and up-cycled products, we can move towards a circular economy to save the planet, while saving some money at the same time!
Sustainability in Gift-wrapping There are lots of ways to go about wrapping your presents in a sustainable fashion. The solution that requires the least amount of effort is simply switching to a wrapping paper that is recyclable. You could also use gift bags and boxes that can be reused after the holidays, or up-cycle those old posters, comic book pages and vintage maps into cool paper for wrapping. For a more unique touch, you can try out a traditional Japanese wrapping method called furoshiki. With so many different fabrics, patterns and wrapping styles to chose from, using furoshiki is a great way to customize your gift for that special someone.
Sustainability in Decorating When it comes to decorating, think of the 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Many of the decorations we buy for the holidays are only used once before they are retired. It might be time to start limiting the number of purchases you make by reducing the number of decorations you think need. Break the habit of buying new décor every season by getting creative and doing some DIY projects instead. Collect natural materials like pinecones, cinnamon sticks, berries, twigs, branches, nuts, etc. and make your own wreaths, center pieces and ornaments. Popcorn strings are a fun project and look beautiful on a live tree. When the holiday season is over you can just compost these items or if you like them enough, use them year-round! Likewise, you can avoid waste by purchasing quality heirloom pieces that you can reuse year after year and eventually hand down to your children.
Sustainability in The Feast This holiday season avoid disposable dinnerware and reduce food waste by meal planning and being prepared. While it’s understandable to say that buying a brand new fancy dining set just for the holidays is unnecessary, using single-use plastic at your holiday feast is most likely going to land you on the naughty list. Some alternative options would be to borrow a nice set of dishes from a family member or friend, find a gently used set at a thrift store, or buy compostable utensils and plates made from sustainable materials like Areca Palm Leaf Tableware. Do your best to meal plan based on the number of people who will be attending your party in order to avoid having too many leftovers. Have everyone bring his or her own take-home container to ensure that no food goes to waste and immediately freeze any food that doesn’t get taken home. You could also make a meal plan in advance, for the days following your dinner party that include the main dishes that you served so that you don’t get frustrated with all the food and end up tossing it out. This way, not a morsel of food goes to waste! It is definitely possible to keep your traditions alive, while being more environmentally friendly, and still manage to enjoy the holidays. If you follow these tips and tricks, you are sure to have well planned and sustainable holiday season and you might just inspire others to do the same. And that can be your gift to Mother Nature this year!