All over the world, December and January are traditionally times of celebration and renewal. From winter solstice festivals, to Hanukkah and Christmas, to Diwali and Kwanzaa, to New Year’s Eve, people come together to share holiday cheer this time of year. However you celebrate, most of these traditions share the common themes of family, togetherness, and generosity.
In recent years people have tended to go to excess throughout the holidays, from eating and drinking to elaborate decorations and gifts. North Americans produce 25-30% more garbage than usual this time of year, and much of that excess waste can be avoided without taking away from the enjoyment of the season. Whatever your holiday traditions are, winter can also be a great time to think about the planet and how you can make a little less waste and a little more merriment.
Here are some tips for greening your holiday season:
If you’re buying new lights this year, invest in LEDs. They use about 90% less energy than incandescent strings, and they last for something close to forever. Also use a power bar that you can easily turn on and off, and a timer so that your outdoor lights will turn off in the morning. Old incandescent strings can be recycled, and if you’re concerned with power consumption, make sure to recycle your old strings when you buy new LEDs.
Ah, the tree. A centerpiece of the holiday season for many families, the tree debate has been going on since the invention of the artificial tree. Sometimes, though, the traditional way is still the best for the environment.
Real or fake?
If you don’t already own an artificial Christmas tree, it’s best not to invest in one. Artificial trees are made with PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which is neither biodegradable nor recyclable, and will one day end up in a landfill indefinitely. Real trees grow back, create oxygen, are 100% biodegradable. Just be conscious of where you’re getting it from, and if you can, buy a potted tree that can be replanted.
Recycling your tree
Most municipalities offer Christmas tree recycling, either by curbside pickup or drop-off at locations near your home. Check with your city as to the dates and methods of recycling.
Items like sprigs of real holly and pine branches can make beautiful decorations for mantles and doorways, and can be shaped into wreaths.
Antique or vintage ornaments
Older ornaments and other second- or third-hand holiday decorations can be cheaper, more unique, and more sustainable than new ones. Fortunately, most folks save ornaments and reuse them for years.
Making your own decorations can be fun and easy, and a great way to save money and reduce waste! They can be made from a variety of items such as old wrapping paper, popcorn, greeting cards, newspapers, and other colorful household items, and they can give your home a unique look over the holidays.
Shopping & Gifts
In Canada, the annual waste produced just from shopping bags and gift wrap is equal to about 545,000 tonnes annually. Bring a shopping bag or three with you, and think twice before accepting all the extras, like boxes and tissue paper.
Steer clear of disposable and gag gifts. For those small gifts for acquaintances and relatively unknown relatives, try making a gift, baking a gift, or bringing something consumable and recyclable like a bottle of wine.
Think about giving experiences, rather than stuff. Lessons or classes, or a membership to a gym or yoga studio, or even a subscription to an online magazine will usually be appreciated more than another nick-nack.
Of course, for those tangible gifts that you want to wrap, be conscious of how and where the items are made. Try to stick to locally made, sustainable gifts that are recycled, biodegradable, etc.
For green gift ideas, check look online. A couple of good places to start are:
Treehugger’s gift guide - http://www.treehugger.com/giftguide/
David Suzuki’s Green Gifting- http://davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/green-gifting/
Wrapping box tops and bottoms separately, so you can reuse them next year; and
Making gift tags from old Christmas cards or scraps of wrapping paper.
Between shopping, family visits, and holiday parties, you’re probably all over the place this season. Try to think about your footprint as you go, and think about making actual footprints by walking, biking, taking transit or carpooling as much as you can.
To help reduce waste (and save you time!) do as many errands as you can in one trip, so you’re not driving back and forth across town. This will save on gas and help the environment as well as your wallet.
Heating & Cooking
Canadian energy consumption is extremely high per capita, higher even than the United States, but only 18.1% of our electricity comes from fossil fuel sources. It is possible that this cheap, relatively clean source of power has led us to be more wasteful of energy than we would otherwise be. Being aware of your energy use over the holidays is a great start to reducing your overall consumption for the year.
It’s true what they say: the more, the merrier! The more people you have in one place, the warmer you’ll be. Also, at this time of year, everyone will likely be dressed in warm attire, so there’s no need to crank up the heat. Furthermore, all that cooking can’t help but heat the place up a little as well. And don’t forget your Christmas sweater! Those are sure to keep you cozy this time of year.
To save additional energy, try not to leave the oven door open unless you’re actually putting something in or taking something out. The same goes for your home doors as well, and remember to turn everything off when all is said and done!
Baked, fried, boiled, or broiled, food is a central component to any holiday gathering. Here are a few tips to help you help the environment, and often your budget, too.
To keep your holiday low-impact, buy local food when you can. Local farmers’ markets often have great winter vegetables at this time of year. To find a local Canadian farmers’ market, check out Farmer’s Markets Canada.Bring your own grocery bags. They’re both bigger and stronger than disposable plastic bags, and you can use them again and again.
Buy food with minimal packaging, and skip the small plastic bags for fruits and veggies.
Try to buy in bulk, especially for non-perishables. This may seem counterintuitive, but will avoid the excess waste generated by individually packaged items.
Use real cutlery, plates, and napkins. The disposable kind make cleanup easy, but they also generate a mountain of garbage. Real wine glasses and dinnerware also add a touch of class to any gathering.
Whatever your plans are for travelling gifting, eating, and general merry-making are this holiday season, you can still have an amazing time while taking care of your environment!
Sources: MSUAPX, Planet Green, Environmental Law, Shop Clues, LED BC, Garden Centres, Earth911, BC Living, Arkive, Best Home Decorators, RDN, Earth911, David Suzuki, Carriage, CBC, Post Consumers, CTSweep, Energy Centre, Holiday Food, Grit, CDC, Whister, Niagra Parks, Work Place Live, Food, Christmas City, Italy, Design Meg, Festival of Lights, Wilkinson, TLC, Saving the Earth