Have a Merry Eco-Friendly Christmas

Jori Hamilton - Contributing Writer

Posted on Thursday 19th December 2019
Christmas Parcel with White Wrapping


Christmas is the season of compassion, kindness, and love, and that’s as important for the environment as it is for you and your family. Holiday gatherings ring with happiness and good cheer, but they also involve more excess waste than at other times of the year. United States citizens produce roughly one million extra tons of garbage per week between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. That waste affects not only the environment but also our health and our children’s future. 

Having a more sustainable Christmas doesn’t mean cutting out the fun or the decorations; it simply means approaching your travels and celebrations with a more eco-friendly mindset. Here are some tips to keep your Christmas green and show your love for the environment.

Keeping it Real

Even though artificial trees are reusable for years, a real tree is a more sustainable choice. Artificial trees are often plastic and made of PVC, steel, and other petroleum products. Over 85% of plastic trees are made overseas in China and leave a large carbon footprint when they are discarded. For example, an artificial tree used for six years and thrown out creates nearly three times as much greenhouse gas pollution than six freshly cut and composted trees. 

A natural tree is a better environmental choice for a variety of reasons. Live trees are a renewable source that contributes to air quality and creates over 100,000 full and part-time jobs as well as supporting American farmers. Live potted trees can be used for years, especially when re-potted, and these trees can also be planted outside. Real trees can be mulched or chipped and are biodegradable, unlike plastic trees which can take more than 400 years to decompose. Purchase your live tree from an organic farm, so it is pesticide-free and safe for your home.

That’s a Wrap

Shiny and eye-catching, wrapping paper is beautiful, but it’s also an environmental problem. Nearly $12.7 billion was spent on wrapping paper in 2017, and even worse, much of it is not recyclable. Most wrapping paper has plastic, dyes, inks and metals, and any paper that has tape or glitter cannot be recycled at all. There’s significant waste left behind for a gift that took mere seconds to unwrap; in particular, glitter can be consumed by wildlife, endangering their lives. Here’s how to keep your wrapping creative and sustainable:

  • Use environmentally-friendly wrapping paper and avoid metallic or glossy foil paper. Hemp, fibers, or previously-recycled paper are sustainable paper sources to use.
  • Choose alternative wrapping paper sources such as maps, old calendars, posters, comics, newsprint, twine, a scarf, cloth, or reusable fabric gift bags.

  • Reuse the wrapping paper you already have where possible as some parts of used wrapping paper are still flat enough to be used again.

  • Avoid using tape or use it sparingly by using recycled ribbon instead. Less tape means a higher likelihood that the paper can be reused.

  • Use wrapping paper that grows by purchasing paper that contains seeds to plant in the spring.

Nearly half of the 85 million tons of packaging products and paper used and discarded by Americans is wrapping paper. You can save money and the environment by wrapping your gifts thoughtfully and sustainably.

Shop Local and Experiential 

If you are choosing to purchase retail gifts this holiday season, make a difference for the recipient and the planet by shopping local and buying eco-friendly gifts. Look for recyclable products that feature minimal packaging and are made from sustainable materials. Consider products like a reusable water bottle, recycled jewelry, grass hamper, or fair trade and cruelty-free clothing and body care. 

This year, you may want to move away from tangible gifts and give the gift of experience instead. Purchase meditation classes, a museum membership, creative workshops, or donate to a worthy cause in the recipient’s name. Experiential gifts can also involve responsible, eco-friendly trips, or family-oriented activities like hiking in a national park, camping for a weekend, or rock climbing. 

Remember if your holidays or experiences require air travel, pack light, use electronic ticketing, and select non-stop routes if possible. For vehicles, try to carpool, avoid engine idling, or take public transportation to offset carbon emissions. Minimize your carbon footprint by walking or cycling when practical.

Eat, Drink, and Be Organically Merry

Support local farmers and the environment by purchasing sustainable produce and meats for your holiday dinner. Feature local and seasonally available vegetables and other plant-based foods on your table. Try to limit foods of animal origin, but if you do indulge, serve organic meats like turkey or ham sourced from free-range and organic farms. Consume sustainable seafood mindfully by eating fish lower on the food chain that regenerate quickly. 

Avoid plastic packaging and disposable plates and utensils whenever possible. Consciously consider your portions and leftovers, and engage in composting to limit your food waste. Don’t forget to take time to enjoy your locally-sourced meal and connect with your family and friends around the table.

Light it Up, Sustainably

Christmas lights are one of the best parts of the holiday season, but they can be a costly drain on electricity and natural resources, not to mention your utility bill. These are some ways to reduce damage to the environment without impacting the beauty of your holiday decor:

  • Use LED lights on your house and your tree: LED lights last up to 100,000 hours and use 95% less energy than traditional lights. 

  • Use smaller lights and reduce your overall display: Less is more, both in terms of artistry and saving the environment. LED mini-lights and a smaller light presentation can save money and natural resources while exuding a classy style.

  • Unplug your lights before you go to bed: Don’t waste energy unnecessarily. Unplug your lights before bed to save resources and reduce the size of your electric bill.

Lights can still be a feature presentation of your holiday decorations, just in an environmentally and economically better way.

Celebrate Christmas Mindfully

With a few tweaks and more mindfulness, you can have a very merry and “green” Christmas. As you make your holiday plans, review your traditional approaches to decorations, dinner, and gifts and look for places where you can begin to switch to eco-friendly methods. In a season that is full of waste and packaging, remember that the best gift you can give to your family is to secure the future of our planet.

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