The holiday season is a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness, but it also brings a significant environmental burden. As households prepare for Christmas, the excess waste, consumption, and carbon emissions associated with this festive time of year are typically 25% greater than normal. Such a statistic is staggering. In this blog post, we’ll explore the environmental impact of Christmas and share simple, eco-friendly practices to help you reduce your carbon footprint during the holiday season. From sustainable gift-giving to eco-friendly decorations, let’s make this Christmas a time of giving back to the planet as well.
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The Gift-Giving Dilemma
Gifts are a hallmark of the Christmas tradition, but they also contribute significantly to the waste generated during the holiday season. Many presents end up unwanted or unused, ultimately finding their way to landfills. To minimise this waste, consider the following eco-friendly gift-giving practices:
Do you need to, want to or can afford to give gifts at all?
This is controversial but, it’s ok to say no. And with the cost-of-living crises we are all in, can we not all relate? Doesn’t part of you want to not worry about gifts at all? You might just inspire someone else to be brave as well.
Of course, I know this won’t work for everyone. And the highlight of Christmas is often watching the little ones open gifts and see their joy in the whole experience that is Christmas.
But if you needed to hear this, it’s ok. You can say no.
My family has been doing Kris Kringle for at least the last 15 years (in fact, now, we pretty much don’t do gifts at all – which admittedly, I miss), and now my partner’s side of the family does it too. Actually, my family would each write in a little card 3-4 suggestions of what they would like, then you are also guaranteeing that the gift is something they want and won’t be returning. Returns and the km’s items travel are huge contributors to the increased environmental impact of Christmas, most end up in landfill once returned. Sure, often there are physical gifts involved in Kris Kringle but significantly less of them. Every little bit helps.
Choose Durable and Reusable Gifts
Opt for gifts that are built to last, such as quality clothing, reusable household items, cast iron kitchenware or long-lasting gadgets. This not only reduces the number of items discarded but also adds value to the recipient’s life.
Sustainably made and Eco-Friendly Gifts
Look for gifts that carry a message of conservation and environmentalism. But be warned that as consumers’ purchasing decisions are being more and more influenced by environmentalism, many organisations are using it to their advantage with buzzwords but not actually living up to their claims. There is an awful lot of greenwashing, so I recommend you do your research.
Reusable and practical products like refillable bottles, canvas tote bags, and products made from recycled materials are excellent choices. Solar-powered gifts, which are energy-efficient, can also be a smart choice.
One of my favourite gifts was a swimsuit made from recycled plastic collected from ocean cleanup projects.
Homemade and Experiential Gifts
Consider gifts made with love and care, such as homemade baked goods, knitted items, or personalised ornaments. If you can’t DIY these then I highly recommend the best place to find these types of handmade items are community minded markets and festivals that happen all over the countryside in the months leading up to Christmas. Alternatively, give the gift of an experience, like a movie night, spa day, or tickets to a special event. These gifts create cherished memories and produce no waste.
Returning gifts is common but can be environmentally unfriendly due to the associated carbon emissions and the fact that often returned products end up in landfill. To minimise this impact, choose gifts thoughtfully, ask for gift suggestions and avoid unnecessary returns whenever possible.
The Impact of Wrapping
The materials used for wrapping gifts contribute significantly to holiday waste. 50000 trees or 8000 tons of wrapping paper is used every Christmas, in the USA alone! The excessive use of wrapping paper and holiday cards takes a toll on the environment. Here’s how you can reduce this impact:
Recycle Wrapping Paper
Instead of tossing wrapping paper into the trash, recycle it. Recycling one ton of wrapping paper is equivalent to saving a substantial amount of energy, reducing waste, and conserving resources.
Use Reusable Wrapping
Consider wrapping gifts in materials that can be reused, such as tea towels, bandanas, nice fabric or jars and containers. This not only reduces waste but also adds an extra layer of thoughtfulness to your presents.
Reduce the environmental impact of holiday cards by sending e-cards or using recycled cards made from sustainable materials. For those who enjoy preserving memories, consider saving the front of received cards for future use as postcards.
A really fabulous idea is giving plantable greeting cards, these are cards made with recycled paper, by hand using traditional paper making techniques and seeding the paper pulp with wildflower seeds within. This means the giftee can either compost the card or plant the card in their garden and be rewarded year after year with beautiful blooms. Blue Bower Art has several types available and they come in packs! You can get them here.
Decking the Halls Sustainably
Holiday decorations, from Christmas trees to twinkling lights, can also contribute to environmental issues. Let’s explore how to make your holiday décor eco-friendly:
Christmas Tree Choices
More than 25 million to 30 million Christmas trees are sold annually in the U.S. While plastic trees offer reusability, they often contain PVC, a toxic material that is difficult to dispose of. Consider the following:
Rent a potted tree from a Christmas tree farm and return it at the end of the season to be replanted.
If using a plastic tree, keep it for at least five to ten years to maximise its sustainability.
Sustainable Tree Disposal
After Christmas, many real trees are discarded. Look for holiday tree composting programs in your area, which often turn these trees into mulch used in local green spaces.
Reduce energy consumption by switching to LED lights for your holiday decorations. They use up to 95% less electricity than traditional lights and can significantly decrease your carbon footprint.
Natural and Biodegradable Decorations
Opt for natural decorations like cranberries, popcorn strings, live flowers, and greenery, which are biodegradable and can be composted after use.
Sustainable Holiday Travel
Traveling during the holidays is another source of increased carbon emissions. If you plan to visit loved ones during this season, consider the following eco-friendly travel options:
Choose Eco-Friendly Transportation
Opt for more sustainable transportation methods to reduce your carbon footprint. Driving is typically less impactful than air travel, while bus and train travel are more eco-friendly than individual car journeys. Not to mention, in peak holiday season, driving can be dangerous with the increased, stressed out traffic on the roads.
Stack Your Trips
Minimize the number of trips you take during the holidays by “stacking” visits to locations that are further away. This approach reduces overall travel emissions.
Reduce Fuel Consumption
If each family in the U.S. reduces gas consumption by just one gallon or drives 20 miles less, it can collectively lead to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. So, aim to make your holiday travels more fuel-efficient.
Sustainable Holiday Feasting
Food is a central element of Christmas celebrations, but it’s also a major contributor to increased CO2 emissions. Here’s how you can make your holiday meals more eco-friendly:
Choose Locally Sourced and Organic Foods
Opt for foods that are locally grown or organic, as this reduces the environmental impact associated with long-distance food transportation.
Mind Your Meat Choices
Consider the carbon footprint of different food options. Beef has the highest carbon footprint, followed by poultry, fish, and vegetarian meals. Make choices that align with your commitment to sustainability.
Minimise Food Waste
We waste a significant portion of food during the holidays. To combat this issue, prepare only as much food as needed and properly store leftovers. Composting spoiled food can further reduce waste.
Use Reusable Tableware
Opt for reusable glassware, flatware, dishware, table coverings, and napkins instead of disposable alternatives. Provide recycling containers for aluminium and glass beverage bottles and cans to reduce waste.
As we celebrate the holiday season, it’s crucial to consider the environmental impact of our actions. By embracing eco-friendly practices, such as sustainable gift-giving, using reusable materials, making thoughtful choices when it comes to decorations and travel, and reducing food waste, we can have a positive impact on the planet. Let’s make this Christmas a time of giving back to the environment and creating cherished memories while caring for our beautiful Earth. An eco-friendly Christmas is not just a gift to the planet but also a meaningful way to celebrate the season of love and joy.