As we're getting closer to the Christmas period, most of us are busy and excited making plans for this special time of the year. The festive season is synonymous with time off, family gatherings, and a time for reflection and gratitude. Although with the pandemic still ongoing, Christmas 2021 may still be different from what it normally is. And in terms of the environment, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Because as you already probably know, Christmas isn't the greenest of celebrations.
Indeed, as exciting as the holy season may be, this celebration really isn’t eco-friendly. In fact, both consumption and waste peak during the festive season, which is also synonymous with excesses of many kinds: purchases, food consumption (and waste), trashed trees and increased electricity use. Bing Crosby may have sung about dreaming of a white Christmas, but here at happiness.com we're dreaming of a green Christmas!
So, the festive holiday might be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the most wasteful. Indeed, research suggests that household waste in the USA peaks between November and January. During these three months, an extra 1 million tons of waste are produced every week. In the UK, waste figures are just as shocking: 74 million mince pies are thrown away alongside 300,000 tonnes of packaging and 250 tonnes of Christmas trees – definitely not green.
So, is there anything we can do to change this? Absolutely. A more sustainable, greener Christmas is possible – it just requires a few changes in habits and for us to become more mindful of how we prepare to celebrate. Follow the advice in these 10 tips and contribute to creating a more meaningful and eco-friendly Christmas. Surely that's the best gift we can give to each other and the planet?
Sustainable Christmas gifts don’t have to be brand new. Indeed, vintage and second-hand items are experiencing a revival right now – especially clothing – as more of us realise the value of gifting these unique pieces that have a history and were made to last. What’s more, the hunt for second-hand treasures is much more exciting than buying something online. Rummage around in a second-hand or vintage store to find that unique gift for a friend – you may find something for yourself, too!
Vintage clothing is a great green Xmas gift shutterstock/Rabusta
If we laid all the Christmas cards that are thrown away after the holidays, they would cover almost 230,000 miles – that’s almost the same as the width of the US from east to west! So, for a more sustainable Christmas, you can either make your own cards, or be selective with the ones you do buy. Remember that if they have a foil layer or are glossy or shiny they will most likely be impossible to recycle. Also, think about buying charity cards, so that a percentage of your purchase goes to a good cause.
Speaking of ordering gifts online, do you ever stop to think where your Christmas gifts are manufactured? We've become so used to the ease of shopping through the web that most of us fail to consider where goods are made, by whom, and the conditions workers are experiencing.
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Although globalization puts a huge variety of products at our instant disposal, it comes with its downsides too: there’s a huge footprint involved in sourcing gifts overseas. So, instead, why not buy gifts from local artists and craftspeople? Search for artisan fairs in your local area and find yourself some greener, eco-friendly Christmas pressies. Plus, you'll be supporting your local community rather than Amazon.
Search local Christmas markets for green gifts shutterstock/Roman Samborskyi
Millions of trees are cut every Christmas only to be discarded, and this is a tragedy for the environment. For a green Christmas, get creative instead and put Christmas lights and decorations on a large potted plant. Or, stack several terra cotta plant pots upside down to form your own “tree”, or even decorate a wooden ladder that's full of plants and presents.
“Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the most wasteful. However, a greener Christmas is possible – it just requires a few changes.”
Interestingly, some farms now allow you to 'rent' a fir for the festive season. You decorate the tree for Christmas and then in the new year it's collected and replanted. However, if you do decide to buy a real tree, make sure you do recycle it afterwards: those in the UK can check out recyclenow for drop-off points. Alternatively, take the tree to your local dump/landfill where it can be disposed of in the green waste area. Seeing trashed trees in the streets after the festive season is a sad sight.
Paper and plastic waste skyrocket during the festive period, but there are ways of making your gift wrapping more sustainable. Reuse wrapping paper from gifts you’ve received, or use recycled brown paper to wrap presents. If you’ve got basic sewing skills, you could even try making drawstring fabric gift bags. Remember that not everything needs to be wrapped up: consider alternative and more sustainable ways of presenting gifts such as using baskets, tin boxes, wooden boxes, etc. These can then be reused, so they double as a useful gift, too.
That's a wrap: make your Christmas greener with recycled paper
Christmas lights are part of the festive spirit, but while ostentatious house displays can be a joy to look at, they are a serious drain on energy supplies. On a smaller scale, when it comes to your Christmas tree lights, don’t leave them on overnight or when no one is at home.
Indeed, it really pays to invest in low-energy lights or in a timer that you can set to ensure you don’t go overboard on your electricity consumption. In fact, if every household in the UK converted to LED lights from incandescent, it would save almost 30,000 tonnes of CO2 and £11 million over the Christmas fortnight.
According to researchers, almost 40 per cent of food served during the holidays goes to waste. That's shocking, especially considering how many people less well-off will go without food over the period. As you plan your Christmas meals, really think about how you can use any leftovers. And if you still end up with too much leftover food, find a surplus food redistribution group or food bank in your area that you can donate to.
Only consume what you need: don't let food go to waste shutterstock/Sven Hansche
Research shows that in the US the value of unwanted Christmas gifts amount to an astonishing $13 billion, whereas a UK survey claims that up to 60 million gifts will never be used. So, instead of risking that possibility and adding to the stats, why not give something that lasts instead, such as a tree or a plant? Furthermore, donations are especially welcome at this time of the year, so take some time to gather unwanted or unused gifts or other items and take them to a charity where they’ll be passed on to someone who needs them.
For a greener Christmas, switch plastic or disposable ornaments for natural or recycled ones. Make it a fun event and get the whole family or house involved in making a wreath out of used wrapping paper or with a bunch of fragrant plants like eucalyptus or spruce. And why not gather a few greens and pine cones to use them as table decorations?
See the light:make an alternative Xmas tree shutterstock/Maglara
Giving your time is a generous gesture that can make someone else’s Christmas more memorable. In the UK, more than 10,000 people volunteer at shelters run by three well-known charities, but they’re not the only ones you can contribute to. Smaller organisations in your neighbourhood or local area may also need help. And, as well as those less fortunate on the receiving end of care, the benefits of volunteering extend to the person helping out, too.
You still have a few weeks left on the run up to Christmas to plan this year’s celebration, so why not start planning for a greener, more sustainable and more ethical Christmas in 2021? Small changes in habits can go a long way and bring more meaning to the festive season. Whatever you decide, make sure you enjoy yourselves! •
Main image: shutterstock/Arina P Habich
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A social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
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