Christmas is nearly here and all around the country, houses are putting up their Christmas trees and decorations. People are shopping for presents, exchanging cards and throwing parties. It’s a wonderful time of the year but it can also be a stressful, wasteful and expensive time of year.
Some people may feel that it can cost the Earth but it doesn’t have to be this way – both for individuals and the environment. With a little thought, it can be a more enjoyable and environmentally-sustainable time of year.
To make your Christmas a sustainable celebration, it basically comes down to two main aims. One, to produce as
little amount of waste as possible – both solid rubbish (even recyclable and green waste if you can) and carbon
dioxide (limiting transportation of both yourselves, your presents and food) and two, to use up as little amount of
finite resources as possible.
With that in mind, here are a couple of ‘top tips’ to be able to achieve this and hopefully bring you more cheer.
1: Be Prepared – This tip is mainly a sanity and money saver but has the added bonus of helping you lead a more
sustainable Christmas. Being prepared helps you limit unnecessary repeated trips to the shops for another
forgotten item, or over buying. This will reduce the consumption of resources in the form of unnecessary items
and your carbon footprint in the form of car fumes. This can take some time to perfect and is may be too late for some
people this year, but you can use it as your aim for next year. Think about what each person would like and what
food you’re going to eat. If you have items already in the house, check before shopping to avoid duplication or
buying obsolete items.
2: The Tree – If you are buying one, buy real, and an even better choice is to buy one with roots in a tub. Some
shops like Bunnings sell Christmas trees in pots that can either be used year after year or planted outside in your
garden. Real trees absorb carbon dioxide during their life and can be composted or chopped up for mulch afterwards. Just remember to keep real trees well-watered while they are your Christmas tree, otherwise, they will dry out and die and drop pine needles everywhere. If you have a trusty artificial tree that is still acceptable, there is no need to change. But think before you buy a new one. Artificial trees cannot be recycled so will end up as plastic landfill.
3: Cards –Even in this age of social media, we still like to send Christmas cards. If you are sending cards at
Christmas, opt for either recycled cards, homemade cards or e-cards. Some charities are associated with e-cards
so you can help them while keeping in touch with a loved one. The cards you receive can be recycled afterwards
too, but even better is to ‘up-cycle’ them into something else. For example, turning them into decorations for next
year, name tags for presents and even cut up and used as cards again next year. Some charities can make use of
your donated cards too, so recycling your cards through them has a twofold benefit.
4: Lights – No Christmas display would be complete without lights whether it’s on the tree, around the house, or
the garden. Even if you don’t adorn your whole house and garden with a blanket of lights, they still account for an
increase in energy use and therefore our electricity bill, and ultimately carbon production. It is however still
possible to be sustainable and enjoy the atmosphere Christmas lights create. Make sure you use LED bulbs
which use less energy than others and turn them off at the wall when not in use to avoid wasting electricity. Choose
solar lights where possible. The garden is a perfect example of where these are handy as they can charge during the
day and light up during the night.
5: Decorations – As with the tree, if you are perfectly happy with all your decorations, then there’s no need to
change them all. But if you are looking for new ones, here are a couple of tips to help you remain sustainable yet
festive. First, use items you already have. For example, as mentioned before, repurpose old Christmas cards into
decorations. You can also use flowers and greenery from the garden or local shops. This is popular in Europe
with holly, ivy and mistletoe, while here in Australia we can use wattle brush, gum branches and even yucca and other succulents. If you are buying decorations, buy good quality items that will last and try to find sustainable
materials such as wood, glass or paper instead of plastic. Some candles can be more sustainable than others.
Homemade local candles from beeswax or soy rather than petroleum, mass produced ones are better.
6: Presents – This is probably the most stressful or expensive area for people. For these, what you want to try and
remember is buying a new item should be a last resort. This doesn’t have to be the ‘baa humbug’ idea that it may initially feel like. Think back to past Christmases, what do you remember more about those years and what
makes you smile? Often, it’s whom you spent it with and what you did, rather than what present you got. You can give a gift of an experience, doing something together that you both enjoy or want to try. You can also make them
something. Everyone has a talent in some area, photography, art, cooking, writing or even gardening. Another
idea is to donate money to a charity in their name or donate your time together and make memories instead of
spending hours shopping without them. If you do decide to buy something new, shop locally from local people
and buy items produced locally to reduce the transport cost and associated emissions.
7: Wrapping presents – This is usually a giant collection for the landfill at the end of the day. To avoid this, wrap in recycled paper, paper saved from last year, reuse kids drawing paper, newspaper or cotton/bamboo bags. If you
need to buy new paper, opt for plain, non-metallic or plastic-coated paper (for example brown paper or a roll of
drawing paper). This can be decorated with ribbon, drawings or ink stamps then either reused, or at least it can
be placed in the recycling bin.
8: Parties – To make these more sustainable and eco-friendly, avoid the temptation for disposable plastic plates,
and cutlery etc. Instead, try and use your regular plates and wash them afterwards, or if you really need
disposable, limit the amount to what is necessary and opt for materials like bamboo and recycle them. Avoid
plastic and individual drinks, make jugs of drinks and cocktails instead. Before the party starts, place large and
clearly labelled bags or boxes to collect waste. Have one for recycling, one for food, one of soft plastics and
another for general landfill.
9: Food – Christmas lunches and dinners are a tradition around this time of the year. When hosting, plan your
menu for the day and shop locally. Aim for in-season local produce and non-intensive meat. To help you with this, shop at your local butcher and greengrocer instead of the supermarket. It may be a wee bit more expensive than the
supermarket, but the quality of the food and the impact you can have in your area is greater.
10: Waste – Having items left over or classed as rubbish at the end of the day is inevitable. The difference
between a sustainable response and a non sustainable one is how we deal with it. Food waste can be composted either at home or via council green bins. Other items can be repurposed, donated or reused and after all other options have been ruled out, they can be recycled, then only as a very last resort, should you bin them for landfill.
Overall, Christmas is about spending time with the people we care about and enjoying that time. These tips are
meant to help you lead a more sustainable Christmas but also, ultimately a more enjoyable and relaxed one.
Initially, it may take effort and be difficult to implement in all the areas mentioned, but if we start with one item
and move forward from there, we may surprise ourselves in a short period of time. If every household produced
one less bag of the landfill over Christmas or took one less car ride, the effect across the whole of the town,
never mind the country, would be immense.
For more info check out this fabulous op shop guide: Op Shop Guide