Originally posted December 5, 2013.
Does anyone else feel like they have “green fatigue” at this time of the year? I’ve been having one of those weeks - the thought of another gimmicky Christmas marketing campaign at the mall is enough to make me want to hibernate at home until the holidays are over. Usually, the giant Santa balloons and never-ending need for ‘holiday shopping time’ is enough to turn me into the Grinch, but this year, I’ve noticed a new, but equally egregious trend: Eco-chic clothing! Bio-degradable wrapping paper! Green electronics! Vegan furniture!
You might think that this brings a whole new meaning to the term “green Christmas” but according to the EPA, North Americans generate 25% more waste (that’s 1 million tons!) during the holiday season, consisting of wrapping, cards, food, old toys and electronics that are promptly discarded once the newer (supposedly ‘greener’) version is received. What’s more, this horrifying statistic doesn’t even come close to representing the energy consumption, transportation costs and waste produced in manufacturing these goods and transporting them to you.
While many of these products may indeed be more environmentally friendly than the alternative, retailers will rarely inform you that the greenest solution of all is simply to consume less. Worse yet, with a severe lack of standards concerning what can be labelled an eco-friendly product, consumers often fall prey to rampant greenwashing, paying a premium for products barely make a dent in addressing the most pressing environmental issues.
So what can you do if you feel like going “green” during the holidays, but don’t want to deplete your bank account or spend hours crafting exquisite homemade presents? Here are some handy tips, and the best thing is- they’re all free, and probably require less effort on your part.
1. Give less.
After a particularly frustrating Christmas shopping spree a few years ago, my friends and I decided that for every gift-exchange we avoided, we would donate a certain amount of money to a charity of our choice or take the time to volunteer at a local shelter. That year, we helped to serve meals at a youth shelter, and I left with great memories and a sense of accomplishment that even the most thoughtful gift doesn’t provide.
2. Skip the wrapping and the cards.
Wrapping paper is torn off within seconds of giving a gift anyway- why not use newspapers, re-used wrapping or even skip it altogether? As for Christmas cards- I’m a fan of old-fashioned snail mail too, but altogether we buy almost 7 billion cards each year, many of which end up in landfills. Thanks, but I’ll take a heartfelt email or e-greeting!
This probably won’t make you the most popular guest at the Christmas party, but it’s better than an unwanted gift going to waste. I tend to receive more chocolate and wine during the holidays than I could realistically consume in a lifetime, and they make great gifts for people you may not know well or are reluctant to shop for.
4. Pack up your leftovers.
This one is really a no-brainer - Canada wastes approximately $27 billion worth of food annually (that’s about 172 kilograms per person). Most leftovers from your big family dinner can be frozen for weeks at a time and saves you the trouble of cooking for a while.
5. Buy local.
If you can’t escape the incessant consumerism, consider buying gifts and crafts from local business owners and manufacturers: not only does this minimize the carbon footprint from transporting goods but you’re putting money back into the local economy at a time when families could use it the most.
6. Donate to a green cause.
People love to know their money is well spent, so why not send a contribution to your favourite group on behalf of someone else? Most environmental groups have donation or contribution campaigns this month, including ourselves.
It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday buzz and forget that it’s not stuff that makes this the most wonderful time of the year - hopefully these tips will help you have a stress-free and truly “green” Christmas. Happy holidays to you and yours!