Enjoying Christmas – Without Destroying the Planet

christmastreesDuring the busy holiday season, sticking to eco-friendly principles might be the last thing on your mind. You may well have developed great green habits in the office and during your daily routine at home – but Christmas often brings up challenges that you may not have thought through. Of course, you won’t want to spend hours dithering over the environmental pros and cons of every choice, and you don’t want to be the Christmas kill-joy who refuses to send cards or wrap presents – so here’s how to make sure that you and the planet both have a fantastic Christmas.

Christmas Cards

It’s hard to argue that sending out dozens of cards is eco-friendly – but when friends and family expect a holiday greeting in the post, how can you minimise the impact on the planet?

A few options are:

  • Sending e-cards. As well as saving the planet, you’ll save time and money too! Invest a few dollars in buying a nice design that you can use for family and friends. One freelancer who I know does this and sends a personal Christmas note by email, along with a link to an electronic greetings card, every Christmas. This makes her greeting much more memorable than yet another generic physical card. (Try JacquiLawson.com for beautiful options.)
  • Donating to charity. Some people donate to charity the money which they’d otherwise have spent on cards – and let relatives know that they’re doing this rather than sending cards.
  • Buying recycled cards. Many Christmas cards – especially those from charities – are printed on recycled card. If you buy from a green charity, your money will also go towards helping the planet.

And what about the Christmas cards which you receive? Make sure you put them in the recycling once Christmas is over. If you’ve got children, why not keep the cards so that they can be cut up and used for craft next Christmas?

Wrapping Paper

I’d wager that even for some of us adults, part of the excitement of Christmas is ripping the wrapping paper from our presents! However, the amount of paper waste generated is significant: here in the UK, apparently “In the UK alone, enough paper is tossed out each Boxing Day to cover over 85 square kilometres” (from Green Christmas Wrapping Options for Eco-Friendly Wrapping), and “half of the paper consumed in the U.S. every year is used to wrap and decorate consumer products” (from A Season for Giving, Not for Discarding).

So what are the alternatives?

  • Using (and reusing) gift bags. In my family, presents are often placed inside gift bags – which are reused year after year. The bags are easy to transport around, and save time on wrapping gifts, especially awkwardly shaped ones.
  • Wrapping gifts in fabric and ribbons. You don’t necessarily have to wrap presents in paper: off cut pieces of fabric can make lovely, reusable wrap that becomes part of a family tradition. You could even make the paper into part of the gift, by using a nice scarf or shawl.
  • Reusing other paper. Although wrapping your gifts in newspaper might look a bit stingy, you could try using old comic books or magazines, or decorating scrap paper – a particular favorite with kids.

Of course, chances are that you and your family will be receiving a fair few gifts wrapped in paper. Encourage everyone to unwrap their gifts carefully (to make this more fun, you could offer a prize to the family member with the most neatly removed papers!) and keep the gift wrap for reuse. If the pieces are too small to reuse, or if you have too much to store, then make sure it goes in the recycling rather than the trash.

Tree and Decorations

For many of us, Christmas wouldn’t feel right without a tree. However, as any greenie knows, chopping down trees to stick inside your house for a month – before they end up in landfill – isn’t very kind to the planet. So how about looking for an different option this year?

  • Use a potted tree. You can replant it in your garden after Christmas – and you can reuse it year after year. If you use waterproof decorations which won’t blow away, you can even decorate your tree outside.
  • Hire a tree. Lots of companies offer tree hire – which means more tree reuse, and fewer trees being cut down year after year.
  • Reuse decorations. Many families do this anyway, bringing out old favorites year after year to hang on the tree. If you’re going to hang edible decorations on the tree, try making your own biscuits rather than buying chocolates which are individually wrapped in foil.
  • Use LED tree lights. They’re more durable and less energy-draining than incandescent bulbs – and they probably won’t cost more. Plus, according to Gizmodo, they stay cooler, which means less risk of a tree fire.

Christmas Lunch

There are a lot of little eco-friendly measures to take in order to make the big Christmas meal a little more planet-friendly. One big step is to be realistic about how much food you need: over-catering can result in a lot of food wastage. You’ll also want to keep an eye on some of these details:

  • Recycle Christmas crackers. A festive table just wouldn’t look right without crackers – but all that cardboard should be recycled, not trashed. Make sure that the pieces get collated and put in the recycling box. Better yet, make your own crackers and fill them with genuinely useful gifts rather than bits of plastic. You can probably write better jokes, too…
  • Buy locally. You can probably order a bird from your local butcher – and get plenty of delicious seasonal vegetables from a greengrocer’s or farmer’s market. Avoid buying lots of exotic delicacies which come with added air miles…
  • Cook efficiently. Keep lids on pans, and don’t keep opening the oven to check on the turkey. Only use as much water as you need.
  • Let leftovers cool before refrigerating. Your fridge will have to work harder if you put food that’s still warm into it.
  • Fill your dishwasher. That might mean ensuring that it’s packed effectively, or hand washing awkwardly shaped dishes.

Have you got any holiday hints on staying green while having fun? Do you have family traditions which work to save the planet and to keep costs down?

Photo by eyeliam on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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