Christmas is full of meaningful traditions and joyful experiences, and for many of us it is the most wonderful time of the year. But it can also have a dark side. According to the EPA, in the four weeks leading up to Christmas, household waste increases by 25%. That amounts to an extra 100 million tons of trash making its way to our landfills each week! That is an absolutely shocking amount of waste, and it affects our environment, our health, and our world’s future. Together, we can make small sustainable decisions that will help lead to big change. Consider it your Christmas gift to the Earth, and to the children who will inherit all this from us.
Here are 26 ways, listed from A-Z, to make your holiday season a little more sustainable:
A – Artificial Trees
Just say no. You may be able to use them year after year, but you can’t recycle them when they have reached the end of their life, and many are manufactured using harmful chemicals. Using a fresh-cut tree may also not be the best choice for the environment. See letter T.
B – Balance
The Christmas season can be a month-long marathon of parties, dinners, shopping, baking, and visiting family. When you make it a priority to balance your time, you give yourself the space to make better choices. Being rushed rarely leads to wise, sustainable decisions. Step back and take a few moments to yourself each day, learn how to say no if your schedule is overwhelmed, and don’t allow yourself to get swept up in the whirlwind of the season.
C – Cards
Who doesn’t love getting Christmas cards? It’s a welcome change from bills and junk mail and a great way to keep in touch with your loved ones around the country. Choose recycled (and recyclable) cards and envelopes to keep waste at a minimum this year.
D – Driving
Traffic jams and parking lot battles can really put a damper on your Christmas spirit. Make a point to carpool whenever possible, take advantage of public transportation, and walk if you have the opportunity. It will save you a lot of stress, save money on gas, and save the Earth from some CO2. Everybody wins!
E – Experiences
Sometimes giving an experience means so much more than giving a tangible gift. It also doesn’t usually produce as much waste. Concert tickets, a trip to a museum, a long weekend in a secluded cabin, or simply a quiet morning are all great options.
F – Fair Trade
All of the items that are sold in the lead-up to Christmas are made by a real person. Take the time to consider this before you shop, and seek out fair trade options. Not only will you positively impact a life and a community with your purchase, but you are also making a more sustainable choice. Because they are often handmade, smallbatch, and made from recycled or renewable materials, fair trade products are usually the more eco-friendly option to their mass produced counterparts. Learn more about ethical business practices make a difference.
G – Get Involved
We really can all make a difference. It’s as simple as looking around and seeing where you can get involved. Do you love fair trade? Spread awareness to your friends and family as they shop. Is the weather getting colder? Ask your local shelter if they need any used coats and blankets and do a collection at work or school. Clean up the trash as you walk through your local park. And keep in mind that your community needs your help all year long, not just during the holidays.
H – Handmade
When we make gifts ourselves, we pack a whole lot of meaning into each present. Homemade cookies, a hand-knit hat, a scrapbook from a shared vacation are all ways to show your love without all the plastic packaging, harsh chemicals, and traffic jams.
I – IOUs
In the same vein as giving an experience or a handmade gift, sometimes people don’t want a thing, they want your time. Giving a coupon for free babysitting to your sister-in-law with four kids is often worth more than gold. The same goes for mowing lawns, washing cars, and shoveling driveways. Who do you know who could use a hand this year? Give them the gift of a day off from their hectic life, but just be sure to follow through! And the best part is, there’s no waste!
J – Junk
OK, this one might sound harsh. But when you have a gift list that’s a mile long and you are out shopping, don’t be tempted by all the flashy items that are all the rage. Before you buy something ask yourself if the recipient will really treasure it, or if it will just end up being forgotten or thrown away. Don’t buy an item just because you are in a rush, buy them a gift they will truly be happy to open and use.
K – Kitchen
At Christmas, a lot of time is spent in the kitchen cooking and baking (and sneaking sips of eggnog directly from the carton). By choosing organic, locally sourced ingredients whenever possible you can make a serious impact on the environment. Also, by making conscious choices about how much you make, you can ensure that less food is wasted. Composting and avoiding disposable plates and utensils are other ways to keep waste out of landfills.
L – Lights
Choosing LED Christmas lights is an easy way to make your holiday more sustainable. They are more expensive up front, but they last longer and use far less electricity than traditional lights. That means less materials in landfills in the long run, and less energy consumption.
M – Mail
Starting as early as October, our mailboxes get crammed with catalogues. These glossy advertisements are beautiful and often get us excited for Christmas shopping, but they also require a tremendous amount of paper and energy to make and are not as easy to recycle as other paper products. If you want to reduce waste, consider adding your name to the National Do Not Mail List.
N – Nontoxic
Christmas means guests, and guests mean a frenzy of cleaning the rooms in your house you’ve been neglecting all year long. Before you start scrubbing, consider switching to natural and nontoxic cleaning supplies. Same goes for de-icer: there are many options that are healthier for you and safer for the ecosystems where the chemicals inevitably end up.
O – Ornaments
Decorating a tree is one of the best ways to get into the spirit! Don’t forget that there are so many options for ornaments that are made with sustainable and recycled materials. It’s easier than you think to avoid plastic decorations.
P – Parties
Party season is here, which means you need a few fresh accessories and outfits to look your best. This is the perfect time to shop fair trade or second hand. The fashion industry is the second most polluting in the world (after oil) and is often dangerous for the people who are making the clothes. Before you head out to try on that dress, ask yourself if you can find a more ethically sourced option.
Q – Quality over Quantity
Buy gifts that are meant to last. When we don’t have to constantly replace the things we own, we ensure that less ends up in landfills.
R – Recycle
Be sure to think about how you discard all the extra packaging that finds its way into your home this time of year. Find ways to reuse what you can, and then find out what your community accepts as recycling and be diligent about sorting your trash properly. It’s no secret that Styrofoam is extremely harmful to the environment, especially our oceans, but many people don’t know it can be recycled. Find your local Styrofoam drop-off and do your part to keep the Earth clean!
S – Shopping Bags
Plastic bags are cheap, strong, and easy to produce. It’s no wonder that we can buy a single small item at a store, and walk out with it in a bag. There are easy ways to reduce the number of plastic bags that end up in landfills, the ocean, and along our roadsides. You can bring your own shopping bags, reuse old ones, recycle them, or just say ”no thanks” at check out.
T – Tree
If you want a more environmentally friendly alternative to the traditional Christmas tree, don’t buy an artificial one. Go to a local tree farm and choose one from a responsible farmer, buy a tree you can replant after the holidays, or get creative and use an indoor conifer (like a Norfolk Island Pine) as your tree year after year.
U – Unplug
Unplug your appliances before you leave for your holiday vacation or go out of town for family visits. It’s an easy way to save energy.
V – Volunteer
Most communities have a neighborhood clean-up group or a nature conservancy organization. Pledge to roll up your sleeves and declutter your neighborhood this year.
W – Wrapping
All that wrapping paper that’s hiding all those special gifts from sight is going to end up on the curb the day after Christmas. There’s a better way! Get sustainable wrapping tips and make a change this holiday.
X – Extend
Extend the life of the things you currently own. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the season and buy new things, whether you truly need them or not. Maybe you can get one more winter out of that coat. Perhaps you should just spend the time untangling the Christmas lights, instead of getting frustrated and buying new ones. Don’t throw that favorite shirt away because it lost a button, sew a new one on! And when it really is time to replace things, choose quality over quantity. See letter Q.
Y – Year Long
Christmas comes and goes very quickly, but making conscious choices to live more sustainably should last all year long! Take some of the lessons you learned during the holiday season and apply them to your daily life.
Z – Zeal
Be enthusiastic about the positive change you are helping to create! Sustainable choices aren’t always the easiest ones to make. Don’t let yourself get discouraged, and be gracious with yourself if progress is slow. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but every little bit helps make the world a better place.