It’s happening again – the most wonderful time of the year is upon us. Time to spend some quality time with our friends and family, see our relatives, kick back and relax.
Let’s face it – we can almost see 2023 in the rearview mirror, so it’s also time to reflect on all the (hopefully) amazing experiences, achievements and accomplishments we had last year.
But before that lovely (and a bit nostalgic) vision filled with joy and laughter can come to life, we first have to go through the absolute frenzy known as a preparation phase.
The pre-Christmas season is a peak period, no doubt. The shopping, the planning, the running around, the cooking… Perhaps it’s not quite as traditional as it used to be, but we’ve all experienced it – at least to some extent.
The festive season is usually white with snow, and yet with all the money flowing around - it’s definitely green as well.
But how to make sure it is green in more ways than one? Perhaps also in a bit more positive context. We know it’s not all about consumerism, but there’s no denying – it’s a part of it.
Unfortunately, consumerism always goes hand in hand with its faithful brother in arms – environmental impact. For all the eco-conscious people out there, no worries – not everything is lost.
There are some ways and tricks we can apply to make the Christmas season around your house both snow-white and eco-friendly green.
Let’s start with the bad and the ugly. How exactly does Christmas harm the environment? It’s not the holiday, of course, but rather how we tend to celebrate it.
The obvious one is a tree cutting controversy. Why is it a controversial topic? Well, it’s not as clear as we might think. It should all be black and white - cutting a tree is always wrong, isn’t it? We’ll go with a very strong - not exactly.
Stanford University's Waste Reduction, Recycling, Composting and Solid Waste Program claims that waste production goes up by 25% in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas in the US, one of the largest and most consumerism-oriented countries anywhere in the world.
And, according to Biffa, landfills get over 100 million rubbish bags over Christmas.
That kind of number can make your head spin. It has to do with packaging, gifts, and all the stuff we buy – a disastrous hotchpotch of everything.
Let’s not forget the aspect of Christmas some value more than the special occasion itself – shopping. And with the shift that happened during the pandemic, as well as a whole array of readily available e-commerce stores, we order a lot.
We think it’s easy and super convenient. No argument here.
But shipping takes a toll as well. Every purchase and return is another long-distance journey through various modes of transportation – especially true for products shipped from China.
Shipping and returns emit around 16 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide every year according to the report prepared by Environmental Capital Group back in 2020. It also mentioned that around 5.8 billion pounds of returned goods end up in landfills.
Another issue is food waste – it is estimated that around 7 million tonnes of food are thrown out during the Christmas period.
Admittedly, all that doesn’t sound too great. But much like the Dickensian story of the charming Mr. Scrooge, just because it starts out grim – it doesn’t mean there’s no hope for a better tomorrow.
How to Be Green without Stealing Christmas
This is tough. It’s tradition versus sustainability here.
Our care for the environment already asks a lot of us. Travel less. Buy less. Invest in environmentally friendly products, ideally from small and local businesses, that tend to cost more.
Bamboo towels, natural bath mat – we get it. These are the sacrifices we’re making and sometimes it feels like we’re the only ones, while the rest of the world is living their lives like there’s no tomorrow.
But all these alarming numbers we’ve just talked about are made by individual choices. They just stack up and add up.
So, is there a way to enjoy a magical Christmas, while minimising the environmental toll? With a good game plan – we certainly think so.
Let’s start with the most controversial topic – a real tree or a fake one? What’s the best for the environment? The easy answer is… There’s no easy answer.
A single 2-metre artificial tree has a carbon footprint of 40 kg which, as you can probably expect, is a lot. However, if you’re going to use it for the next 10-20 years, it doesn’t seem so bad anymore. Still – that’s a big if.
How about a real tree to sit around on Christmas Day? It can be a viable option as well, but there are certain rules.
First, make sure it has the Forest Stewardship Council stamp of approval because that means a minimal amount of fertilizer has been used to grow it.
Nobody’s suggesting to starve your entire family in the name of saving the planet. But doing our best to limit or reduce the amount of Christmas food we buy and prepare can really go a long way.
There’s no need to stick to tradition, when half the food ends up going bad, because we can’t possibly eat that much. Sure, it’s tricky with a lot of guests, but it’s all about awareness and effort.
It’s also that time of the year when we should invest in quality over quantity – locally sourced, preferably organic, highly-quality food to support environmentally conscious small businesses.
What better way to match the festive atmosphere of Christmas than some stunning homemade meals made with quality ingredients?
Yes, we buy too many Christmas presents. But can you even imagine spending Christmas without gifts? They may not be the point, but they’re certainly an integral part of the tradition and celebration.
Unfortunately, they're also responsible for extra waste. Honestly, it’s not even that people show too much appreciation to their loved ones by buying too much – it’s just so many gifts are a total miss.
They end up being thrown out, never used or even donated to the local charity shops. Sometimes it’s also the question of quality and durability, like with plenty of cheaply made plastic toys.
Perhaps more eco-friendly gifts - a set of nice eco towels, a canvas tote bag, a stylish absorbent bath mat, a reusable bottle or an organic cotton T-shirt – should be our choice this year. That would make a real statement.
These are a huge problem, regardless of how much we love them. From tiny stickers, wrapping paper, to gift bags and Christmas cards. Sure, they’re a nice gesture, great sentiment, but - is it all worth it? And what’s the alternative?
Buying less is once again a proven method. You probably have plenty of old Christmas decorations lying around – just upcycle them, no need to get a new set every year.
E-cards are a viable option as well. Using recycled paper for all our Christmas-related purposes. Plant-based glitter, if you’re a fan.
We have some wiggle room in that department, all we have to do is show a little initiative and look for opportunities to treat our planet better.
We can all try a little harder to help the planet this upcoming holiday season. Even if we’ve made some mistakes in the past – that’s okay.
Let’s just all make sure that last Christmas was the last time we let ourselves get too carried away and fall into the trap of the consumerism-filled frenzy.