With approximately $75 billion spent on Christmas gifts, 1.9 billion cards sent, and 20.8 million Christmas trees cut in the U.S. alone, the impact of this one holiday is immense. While worldwide information is hard to come by, the Australian Conservation Foundation reports a minimum of 2,285,000 tonnes of greenhouse pollution contributed to Christmas in Australia alone!
Green Christmas ideas abound. But from gift giving to decorating and more, the first thing to keep in mind is the same as always: Simplify. Making things simple reduces cost, stress and waste.
Here are out 12 tips to enjoy a more environmentally friendly Christmas…
1. Tree – A potted tree is a great green choice that can be used for multiple years before planting outdoors. Opt for a living potted tree like the Norfolk Island Pine. This little guy comes from Norfolk Island, which is located between New Caledonia and the South Pacific, and it loves living indoors. Decorate it during the holidays, and enjoy its simple beauty the rest of the year. Another idea is natural wood tree like one two tree this is a waste free alternative to real Christmas trees and offers a reusable and biodegradable solution for families who want a tree they can use over and over again without the mess. Many of the plastic artificial trees although reused they still consume significant energy and petroleum-based materials during their manufacture you would have to use these trees for at least 20 years for them to be considered sustainable. You could also get creative and make your own Christmas Tree with recycled materials like drift wood! Here is a link to some other suggestions.
2. Lights – Christmas tree lights left on for 10 hours a day over the 12 days of Christmas create enough CO2 to expand 12 inflatables, so turn them off when they are not required or utilise timers. Don’t count on remembering to turn them off after a long day and plug the lights into a timer that remembers for you. If your strands of lights are older than 10 years it will be more efficient to replace them with newer, LED bulbs. They can also save you up to 90% or more on power costs and will last longer than traditional bulbs.
3. Ornaments – Use recycled ornaments and decorations or decorate your tree and home with products that are fairly traded and ethically sourced. Another suggestion would be to get creative and create your own. You can decorate with nature by bringing elements from the outdoors to incorporate into your home, such as a wreath of pine boughs or an abandoned nest to place a candle within. Avoid plastics and opt for wood, metal, or organic cloth as it will all last longer than plastic or thin glass.
4. Gifts – When choosing clothing choose sustainable materials like organic cotton, hemp, silk, these all are natural and renewable materials. Shop locally-owned, support your community and local economy by shopping small local stores, especially if those stores also sell locally made items. Give the gift of charity, give money to a local charity, sponsor a child overseas or help impoverished women start a small business all in the name of your loved ones. Another great idea for gifts is a handmade gift exchange, encourage everyone to make handmade gifts such as hand-knit scarves or cookies.
5. Gift Wrapping – This constitutes one of the biggest Christmas wastes. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that last year’s wasted paper would be enough to wrap up the Channel island of Guernsey. If we all recycled just half of of the 8,000 tonnes produced we’d save 25,000 trees. Ditch the rolls of wrapping paper and avoid glossy or metallic gift wrap instead try wrapping your presents in brown or recycled paper, recycled foil or newspaper, and try using string or raffia (made from bark which regenerates) to tie it up.
6. Greeting Cards – Can you send an e-card instead? Purchase recycled or charity cards or cut up last year’s and re-use them? Or send a family photo with your greeting handwritten on the back.
7. Shopping Bags – Bring some cotton shopper bags with you when christmas shopping instead of accumulating more plastic and paper bags.
8. Food – Compost all your food peelings or get a wormery to help break down the vegetable food waste into rich soil nutrition. Buy organic and locally. Produce bought locally means you will be supporting small suppliers and the local community, while minimising your carbon footprint. Shop at a local farmers’ market, or try growing some of your own vegetables where possible. Buy your fruit and vegetables loose and ditch all that wasteful plastic packaging. Make sure the goods that are packaged are made from recycled materials. Go meat free if you dare. Ten million turkeys are eaten every Christmas so the carbon footprint in Turkeys alone is HUGE. A vegetarian or vegan Christmas is not only a humane and sustainable way to celebrate Christmas but it can be a super fun way to introduce family and friends to something outside of tradition and their comfort zone. There are some really great vegan and vegetarian Christmas recipes and it can be a fun way to get creative in the kitchen.
9. Drinks – Avoid individual beverages, make homemade eggnog, hot chocolate or iced tea in large quantities and prepare pitchers of ice water in advance to set on each table to reduce waste from water and soda bottles or cans.
10. Party – Skip disposables, bring out the fine china, utensils and cloth napkins. Try to avoid serving people with paper or plastic plates and cups if you are entertaining.
11. Candles – Paraffin candles are made from petroleum residue and are no good for your health or for the environment. Candles made from soy, beeswax or natural vegetable-based wax are more eco-friendly because they biodegrade and are smoke-free.
12. Clean Up – Clean up after guests have left with all-natural household cleaners. Run only full loads of dishes in the dishwasher and throw cloth napkins and tablecloths in with other laundry. Recycle any non-glossy paper wrapping can be shredded for the compost or added to the recycling bins. Be sure to keep the bows and ribbons for multiple uses, as well as tissue paper, gift bags and boxes. Also, packaging from beverages or food containers should be rinsed and recycled as well. Any food scraps that can’t be used for leftovers (or broths) can be composted or given to animals to reduce any potential waste. Amongst the clean up of house and lunch try to donate any unwanted gifts to local charities. Such a huge proportion of the gifts given this Christmas will end up in the back of the wardrobe never to see the light of day again. This year make a special effort to see that any unwanted presents go to good use.
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