Xmas and holiday season green tips

First published November 2007, updated November 2010

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas already given the number of related ads I’m seeing. I thought I’d get in now with my two cents worth before the “silly season” gets into full swing. It’s time to arm ourselves against the season of consumption!
Over the Xmas season, the western world generates a lot more rubbish than at other times of the year. Here’s a series of tips to help you reduce your upcoming Xmas impact on the environment. 

1. Shop online. Sometimes online retailers will have better pricing than bricks and mortar stores, plus you’ll save fuel in travelling from store to store, time and stress! Items purchased online are often shipped straight from the factory to you, so it can also cut down on the overall freight impact.

2. When heading out to do your Christmas shopping, take your own reusable bags rather than using the plastic ones provided by stores.

3. When purchasing gifts, try and think “earth-friendly” and socially conscious every step of the way; from the product itself to the packaging. If you buy green gifts, make a special effort to let the person know of its environmental benefit as you may just help set the receiver on the path to a greener life; or at least sow the seeds. This doesn’t mean buying items the person may not need or want, but consider the person’s interests and look for a green angle. For example, for chocolate lovers, perhaps organic, fair trade chocolate.

4. All of us have likely received gifts in the past that we had no use for and we’ve just stashed them away. It’s a waste of money and resources. Instead of taking a risk if you’re not sure what a person wants, consider purchasing a gift card – that way they’ll get what they really want or need. Some retailers are even offering earth friendly gift cards now made from bioplastic! Also consider re-gifting items you may have received in the past but have never used.

5. Instead of buying physical gifts, consider purchasing a service or tickets to a concert or movie.

6. Make a donation to a charity, developing world or environmental project as a gift for someone else. Does the person you are buying for really need another pair of socks? Instead of giving them a gift they can use, buy them a gift that goes to another needy person or organization – purchase it in their name. Many organizations provide this option now. To my way of thinking, this is the perfect gift because it gives to so many. You could purchase seed that will go to a third world farming family, wheelchairs for the disabled, chickens for a community, trees for damaged land – the possibilities are endless.

7. Battery operated items are a hugely popular as gifts. I shudder to think how many single use batteries are consumed on Christmas day and the following weeks as kids (and adults) put their new toys through their paces. In 2006, 40 billion single-use batteries were sold worldwide! As part of your gift buying, purchase rechargeable batteries and a battery charger – these are quite economical items to buy these days and will save you a ton of money in the long run.

8. Thousands of tons of Christmas cards are purchased each holiday season. The mind boggles to think of how many trees are destroyed in the process. Try to purchase cards made from recycled paper and after the holiday season, if you decide not to keep the cards you receive, recycle them. Another idea worth considering is to offset the paper consumption is to plant a tree every year.

9. If you like putting bows on your gifts, use fabric instead of plastic.

10. Christmas wrapping creates the same sort of issues as cards, but there are some added environmental dangers with metallic and plastic type wrapping. Aside from taking a long time to decompose, these types of wraps give off toxic gases when burned. Look for plainer wraps made from recycled paper, wrap gifts in scarves, place in baskets etc. Make the wrapping a part of the gift if you can; something that can be used for another purpose – for example, check out the Japanese art of Furoshiki.

11. Purchase a live tree to use as a Christmas tree – and it doesn’t have to be the traditional fir. There are no laws against using another species and I guarantee that your doors won’t be busted down by the Santa CIA :). After Xmas is over, plant the tree in your yard.

12. If you’re going to purchase Christmas tree lights this year; consider buy LED tree light sets – they’ll last far longer and use a great deal less electricity.

13. Use a timer for your external lighting decorations; again, a huge electricity saver.

14. Tree decorations can be made from gingerbread and strings of edible items such as berries or popcorn – much tastier than plastic and far less environmental impact! It can be great fun for the kids too – one of my fondest memories of Christmas was making popcorn strings. Also look to nature for decoration ideas – for example; pine cones, leaves and flowers.

15. Artificial snow spray can be made from environmentally damaging components, plus there’s added waste of the can. A more earth-friendly imitation snow effect can be achieved by sprinkling baking soda on your tree or even cotton wool that can be used again.

16. If candles are part of your celebrations and decorations, consider using soy or beeswax types. Normal candles are made from paraffin, which is a petroleum based product.

17. Xmas day is a rubbish-fest. Before the gift opening and feasting begins, have boxes or bins set up for different types of rubbish – cans, bottles, paper etc. This will make your job easier at the end of the day and minimize the amount of recyclables heading for landfill.

18. Food wastage can also be a challenge on Xmas day – instead of throwing scraps, leftovers and peelings into your bin, dig them into your garden or better still, buy yourself a worm farm this Christmas and use the vegetable refuse to help you start feeding them.

The retailers of the world have brainwashed us over the years as to what Christmas is all about. So many people say they despise the day and the leadup to it, yet continue to participate and in doing so, perpetuate it. Remember that you don’t have to celebrate Xmas. There is no law or no edict from any authority saying you must celebrate the day with gifts to each other and spending so much cash on associated festivities that it puts you into debt. If you decide to forgo the celebrations, don’t let anyone make you feel bad. I don’t celebrate the day for a variety of reasons and I honestly don’t care if others have a problem with my grinch-iness.

However, if Xmas day really is an important day to you and your family, think outside the gift box a little and you can have a greener Christmas that may benefit the environment and humanity.

Care to share some more tips for making the holiday season more earth friendly? Please add them below :).

For some further points of view on the Xmas season and consumption, check out my article “Holiday Shopping Thoughts“.