There is no doubt Christmas is a time when our ecological footprints can be particularly significant. However, there are a few simple ways we can reduce our impact on the environment and still have an amazing holiday season. Here are five sure-fire ways to have a more eco-friendly Christmas this year:
Call it a wrap on wrapping paper
Buying fancy wrapping paper can be costly to your wallet &- and the planet. Not only does it entail cutting down large numbers of trees, but it calls for significant energy usage in its production and transportation, as well as to recycle it afterwards, if it doesn’t go straight to the landfill.
Wrapping paper with a metallic finish can’t be recycled in Montreal. (If you’re going to be somewhere else this holiday you might want to check with the local recycling service to see what they take.) This season, why not get creative? Wrap your presents in old newspapers, shopping bags, recycled boxes or even egg cartons you have lying around. If you prefer a soft touch, go a different route and sew together some fabric scraps to wrap your gifts in.
Give sustainable gifts
Last year, my family took on the challenge of having a “second-hand Christmas.” The goal was to give each other gifts that were either bought used (from thrift stores, antique shops or flea markets etc.), or were recycled from things we already owned. Everybody had a ton of fun and we all ended up with some really unique and amazing presents. This method will not only save you money and decrease the ecological footprint of your holiday shopping, but may also mean your gift keeps on giving as money is funneled into social programs that are affiliated with most thrift stores and that need financial support.
Of course, there may be some people that are hard to shop for second hand, but don’t let that dissuade you. Homemade gifts are always a great option too. Try making preserves from local produce, compiling recipe books out of secret family favorites, or putting together special compilation CD collections. You can also donate money to a charity or environmental group in someone else’s name.
The opportunities to have fun and be creative while keeping consumption levels low are endless.
Re-think your choice of Christmas tree.
There is much debate over whether real or artificial Christmas trees are more environmentally friendly. Real trees often come hand in hand with high usage of pesticides and chemical fertilizers but are biodegradable and usually local in their origin. On the flip side, artificial trees tend to be manufactured overseas and are not recyclable (thus ending up in landfills). But, if they’re taken care of, they can last many years and reduce the need to produce huge quantities of trees. It’s a grey issue whichever way you look at it, but there are some “greener” options available:
Some tree farmers are organically certified and thus don’t use chemical fertilizers. Make sure to ask where your tree has come from before buying it.
Perhaps the best option is to buy a living Christmas tree, with the root ball still attached from a local nursery. These are a bit more expensive than an average tree, but can be replanted after the holiday season.
You can also consider decorating a pine bow or a potted plant instead of a full-out tree.
Green up the dinner table
This Christmas, try filling your dinner table with local produce, meat and dairy which you can find at Montreal markets like Atwater and Jean-Talon. Also, keep energy consumption in mind in the kitchen. Ovens use a lot of energy and combined with all the other gadgets you might be using for your feast, the energy bill can get quite high. Try serving more raw foods or focus on using foods that have a short cooking time.
Consider replacing sugar or cocoa products in Christmas baking with organic, fair trade alternatives, or just cut them out all together and use natural sweeteners like local, organic honey or maple syrup.
You might also find you have a lot of food waste after cooking, or a mountain of leftovers after your meal. Think about dropping unusable food waste off at a near-by composting station, and donating edible foods to shelters or community food projects.
Keep in mind the little things
Remember that often it’s the little details that can add up to make a big difference.
Plan ahead, and organize carpools to and from parties. Decorate with energy saving LCD lights and make sure to turn them off when you’re not around.
Avoid using disposable plates and utensils at dinner time and stick to re-usable ones. Organize with other family members to bring some dishes with them if you are concerned there won’t be enough, and get everyone in on washing the dishes so it can still be a social activity, and not a nuisance. If you really must go the disposable route, makes sure to get ones that are 100 per cent biodegradable.
Check out treehugger.com’s Green Holiday Gift Guide at www.treehugger.com/giftguide. Or alternative gift ideas from Buy Nothing Christmas www.buynothingchristmas.org