Christmas is one of the happiest, most joyful times of the year. It can also be the most wasteful . . . but it doesn't need to be! There are countless simple ways you can reduce your environmental footprint at Christmastime, whilst maintaining the Christmas spirit. Find out how!
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Until this morning I was not planning to write a blog post on anything even closely resembling Christmas. Then I went to Homesense.
Christmas threw-up in Homesense. And not just any old Christmas . . . tacky, cheap, gimmicky Christmas . . . and the public is eating it up. Santa dustpans, snowman salt shakers, and Rudolph slippers are flying off the shelf at an alarming rate. Huh?
As I carefully dodged the Christmas section I couldn't help but wonder a) where people store all this Christmas crap, and b) how long it will be before each item ends up in the landfill.
Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas (and yes, Homesense does have the odd hidden gem). Bring on the Jingle Bell Rock, bottomless rum and eggnog, Elf on the Shelf, and mistletoe. Maybe it's because I grew up with parents attached to their stuff, or maybe it is the current climate crisis and sad state of our planet, but excess stuff gives me anxiety, especially stuff that sits in boxes 11+ months of the year.
My trip to Homesense got me thinking about ways to make Christmas more eco-friendly, and the ideas kept coming . . . 26 to be exact.
26 (NON-GRINCHY!) TIPS AND TRICKS TO MAKE CHRISTMAS MORE ECO-FRIENDLY THIS YEAR. . . AND BEYOND!
ECO-FRIENDLY TIPS FOR CHRISTMAS DECOR
1. Buy only what you need and intend to use long term
For most of us, adequate storage is a luxury we simply don’t have. Christmas decor essentials take up enough storage as is, without the added boxes of random Christmas knickknacks we may or may not use. Christmas decorations are stowed away 10-11.5 months of the year. Next time you set out to buy a Christmas decoration consider where you will store it, if it is the best use of your precious storage space (and money!), and how likely you are to use it years down the road.
2. Store it properly
Every year, piles and piles of Christmas decor items are discarded because they have been damaged, usually due to how they were stored. Be selective about the Christmas decor you purchase and ensure you store it properly so it lasts. Check out some of my favourite storage options below.
3. Be picky with your tree decorations
Christmas tree decorations are sold EVERYWHERE and are usually purchased on impulse. Determine the look you want for your tree long-term and be picky! Choose items that you won't grow tired of, have meaning, and will last. Also, avoid plastic if you can.
4. Less is more
Seek out a few key decor pieces that will give you the intended "Christmas feel" without shoving something christmasy in every nook and cranny.
5. Consider secondhand
If you must decorate every nook and cranny in your home, consider buying secondhand decor. Given how infrequently it is used and how often people change their minds, you can get used decor that is in pristine condition at a fraction of the cost.
6. Choose the right Christmas tree
There is considerable debate about live versus artificial trees and which is better for the environment. Neither are great, but there are a few things you can do to lessen your environmental impact, regardless of which one you choose.
Real Christmas trees
In Canada you can easily obtain a permit to cut your own tree on provincial Crown land (such as under power lines). These trees need to be cut eventually anyways, are organic, local, and free! In British Columbia you can obtain a permit here.
Buy local. Choose a Christmas tree from a local farm instead of one that has been shipped from across the country (or beyond). If you choose to buy from a store, ask an employee where they source their trees.
Purchase a tree grown without the use of pesticides and herbicides. Most tree farms use considerable amounts of pesticides and herbicides that end up in both the environment and your home.
Be sure to “treecycle” it afterwards. Most municipalities have a Christmas tree recycling program.
Artificial Christmas trees
Avoid artificial tress made of PVC, which is the absolute worst type of plastic for the environment AND our health (PVC has been linked to cancer and also often contains lead). Instead, look for artificial Christmas trees made of polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE) or Polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Hint: Ikea Christmas trees are made of PET and do not have flame retardants or lead (and they are cheap!).
Avoid artificial trees with built in lights. These often die within a season or two despite the actual tree being in near perfect condition and usable for a number of years longer.
Select a smaller artificial tree so it produces less waste when it eventually bites the dust (this will also make it easier to store).
Buy a used artificial tree.
Store your artificial tree properly so it lasts.
Buy an artificial tree you intend to use for at least 10 years (ideally 20).
If you already have an artificial tree, do nothing. Keep using it.
Use a potted, live Christmas tree.
Rent a living tree.
Use a houseplant as a Christmas tree.
Make or buy a handcrafted wooden tree.
Skip the tree and decorate the rest of your house instead (too grinchy?).
ECO-FRIENDLY TIPS FOR CHRISTMAS GIFTS
7. Quality over quantity
Quality trumps quantity every time. Seek out quality presents that will last and be used long-term instead of cheap ones that will more than likely be discarded shortly after Christmas (such as those found at the dollar store). This goes for presents, stocking stuffers, and advent calendars.
8. Think before you shop
Make a plan as to what you will purchase to avoid both buying excessively and gifting items that will not be used or appreciated.
9. Gift experiences
Consider gifting experiences instead of material items.
10. Get greedy (or secret)
Presents and dollars add up when you need to buy gifts for each and every person in your immediate and extended family, never mind friends and colleagues. Consider arranging a greedy or secret Santa (at least for the adults) so you only need to buy one present and can focus on the true meaning of Christmas.
11. Hand make it
Can you bake, paint, knit, sew, or make a mean craft? Consider gifting it! If making gifts yourself is not an option, check out local craft fairs or browse Etsy for handmade gifts with less of an environmental impact.
12. Consider used
You might not be able to get away with buying a used gift for older kids or adults (or maybe you can?), however, younger kids don’t know the difference. If it is the difference between getting something they want or not, they will likely be happy to have something used.
ECO-FRIENDLY TIPS FOR CHRISTMAS WRAPPING
13. Ditch the paper
Consider using reusable cloth gift bags, boxes, tins, or pieces of fabric for wrapping instead of paper.
14. Be selective about the wrapping paper you use
If wrapping paper is a must, avoid paper that has glitter or is made of foil and can't be recycled. You could also try using brown paper with decorative ribbon and bows, or have your kids decorate it with paint, markers and/or stickers.
15. Save it
Make an effort to save bows, ribbons, gift bags, boxes, etc. for next year. There is no reason to throw these out after a single use. If you are up for it, save the wrapping paper too!
16. Make your own gift tags
Cut up the front of old Christmas cards to use as unique gift tags.
ECO-FRIENDLY TIPS FOR CHRISTMAS DINNER
17. Plan ahead
Plan out exactly what you need ahead of time so you don't a) waste food and b) waste gas and precious time running back and forth to the store.
18. Skip it
No one likes Brussel sprouts? Skip em! It doesn't matter if something is a 100 year old family tradition, shovelling piles of uneaten food into the trash every year does no one any good. Make new traditions. . . that taste better!
19. Support local
Purchase a local, sustainably sourced Turkey and seek out other locally grown ingredients.
20. Make veggies the star
You don't have to forego the turkey, but it also doesn't need to be the star. Consider opting for a greater ratio of veggies to meat, and focus on making the veggie dishes shine. Check out Pinterest for some inspiration.
21. Ditch the disposables
Maybe this goes without saying? I don't think Christmas dinner on a paper plate is a thing . . . but maybe it is? What is Christmas without a few extra dishes (right mom?). Ditch the disposable plates, cups, cutlery, napkins, etc.
22. Reconsider Christmas crackers
Besides the cardboard and snapper, Christmas crackers contain an ugly paper hat that MIGHT get 30 seconds of use, a corny joke, and a crappy toy you will more likely than not throw directly into the garbage. Despite this, North Americans have an unhealthy obsession with Christmas crackers. If you MUST have one, consider one of the many eco-friendly versions. Alternatively, replace it with a new tradition.
23. Cut down on food waste
There are never leftovers after Christmas dinner. . . said nobody ever. Store what you can reasonably consume within a couple days in containers (glass ideally), or cover with beeswax wraps (ditch the Saran Wrap). Freeze or give away the rest to avoid it going to waste.
OTHER SIMPLE WAYS TO MAKE CHRISTMAS MORE ECO-FRIENDLY
24. Christmas cards
Consider sending E-Christmas cards (or an emailed newsletter) instead of physical cards to waste less paper and resources that are required to deliver it. Not a millennial? Try these eco-friendly Christmas cards from Paper Culture.
25. Advent calendar
Invest in a resusable advent calendar to avoid packaging waste, feeding your kids (or self) questionable chocolate, and stepping on small disposable toys. Reusable advent calendars double as christmas decor and allow you the freedom to put whatever you want in them.
26. Christmas lights
Remember to turn off your Christmas tree lights when you are not in the room, and your outdoor lights during the day. Invest in a timer to make it easier (and to save money on your electricity bill). As well, try to purchase Christmas lights that are LED, as they require significantly less energy.
Implementing even a few of these tips will not only reduce your environmental footprint, but can save you money and help bring the focus back to what Christmas is really about, spending time with loved ones!