9 Easy Ways to Have an Eco-Friendly Christmas
Celebrating an eco-friendly Christmas is easier than you think. Here's the inside scoop on low-waste holiday decor, sustainable gifting, and more.
It seems like as soon as Thanksgiving is over, we're all ready to blast some Mariah Carey. But cheery music aside, Christmas has a huge carbon footprint.
Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans toss out 25% more trash than the rest of the year. But not even Thanksgiving, where 200 million pounds of turkey go into the trash, can compete with Christmas. Between the food waste, packaging, wrapping paper, and greeting cards, we throw away more trash on Christmas than at any other time of year.
Just because we've been wasteful in previous years doesn't mean we have to continue the trend. In a recent episode of the Good Together podcast, Brightly's founder, Laura Wittig, is joined by Sarah Robertson-Barnes, a low-waste living expert and the founder of Sustainable in the Suburbs, to discuss super easy ways you can make your celebrations more eco-friendly.
9 Ways to Have an Eco-Friendly Christmas
1. Avoid Returns
Oftentimes, people don't think about the environmental impact of returns. Sure, it's nice being able to buy a few different sizes to see which one fits, but it ends up coming at a cost to the planet. Both in terms of carbon emissions (for example, think about all the back and forth from shipping) and waste produced.
"We need to think about what's happening with our returns," says Robertson-Barnes. "It's not just going back on the shelf in a lot of cases. It goes straight to landfill because it's cheaper for [large corporations] to simply just bin it rather than pay someone to restock it. So we're talking billions of pounds of returns ending up as landfill waste every year."
Only order what you need. And if something does end up being the wrong size or color, consider gifting it to someone or donating it before sending it back to the company.
2. Wrap Gifts Using Newspaper or Reusable Cloth Wrapping Paper
Wrapping paper is notoriously hard (if not impossible) to recycle. Even though the glossy paper looks amazing, most of it ends up in the landfill.
"I end up seeing a lot of it in recycling boxes, and it's [often] not accepted in recycling programs," says Robertson-Barnes. "So what happens is it contaminates the blue bin, and then those whole truckloads are contaminated and can't be sorted and it will all go to landfill."
To reduce waste, opt for eco-friendly gift wrapping options like newspaper. That way, it can easily get recycled or composted afterward. Or, even better, skip the paper altogether and opt for reusable cloth wrapping paper. There are so many different patterns to choose from, as well as wrapping techniques.
3. Choose Secondhand or Natural Decor
If you go into a thrift store or consignment shop right now, you're bound to notice an impressive holiday season filled with beautiful decor from recent years and years past. (Hello, gorgeous vintage items!)
Thrifting for holiday decor isn't just a more sustainable option than buying new. It also makes your space unique! No one will have the same wreath, ornaments, and table settings as you.
Another option is to create decor using natural objects you can find right outside your door or at a local park.
"Lean into what you can find outside. [For example], not purchasing packaged pinecones—they're free outside on the ground," says Robertson-Barnes. "I do a cedar garland—I just cut it off the tree in my yard. Then I make a citrus garland every year, so I go to the reduced produce section in our grocery store and grab a couple of the sad-looking oranges. I'll dehydrate two or three of those, and they last for years."
4. DIY What You Can
DIY projects come in handy around Christmas. Not just for saving some money and upcycling what you already have, but also because it's super satisfying knowing you made something yourself.
If you're crafty, this is your time to shine! Homemade gifts like pillowcases, coasters, and tote bags all make for great Christmas presents. There are also plenty of projects for DIY newbies, like making your own DIY Christmas ornaments out of pinecones or dehydrated orange slices.
5. Give an Experience Gift
One of the most eco-friendly gift options is an experience. "If you're a fan of the zoo or local museums, passes or gift cards that go toward memberships are really great," says Wittig. "The thing that we love to do with our experience gifts when we receive them is take pictures and text right after it. It's a good way to stay connected to somebody throughout the year."
6. Make Plant-Based Holiday Recipes
Plant-based meals are more eco-friendly than meals that contain meat and dairy. In fact, going vegetarian can cut your emissions by about half, and going vegan can cut your emissions by up to 85%. When you're deciding which holiday recipes to make this year, consider making some of them plant-based.
If you don't want to make a dish entirely plant-based, consider some planet-friendly swaps. Even using an alt-milk like oat milk instead of dairy milk in a recipe can decrease your overall carbon footprint over the holidays.
7. Opt for Eco-Friendly Christmas Cards
Christmas cards are an essential part of the holidays. Whether you mail cards to faraway family members or attach them to every gift you give, it's a beloved tradition. Unfortunately, it's also a wasteful one.
The environmental impact of greeting cards is a lot worse than people assume. Not only are many difficult to recycle and therefore tossed in the trash, but sending them is also an issue. The U.S. mails 1.3 billion holiday cards a year, which is the same amount of CO2 emissions as charging 22 billion smartphones or 22,000 homes’ energy use for one year.
When you're shopping for cards, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo. This means the paper was responsibly sourced. Also, look for recyclable options to help keep paper waste out of landfills.
8. Choose Quality Over Quantity
Remember that scene in the first Harry Potter movie where Dudley is complaining that he only received 36 presents from his parents because he received 37 presents the year prior? While humorous (and a little bit cringe), overconsumption is a huge problem in the U.S.: We're buying too much, and a lot of it goes into the trash.
If you're worried you aren't buying enough gifts this Christmas, try choosing items of quality instead of quantity. Choosing slow-produced or handmade clothing over items from fast fashion brands, for instance, ensures those items last for years to come.
9. Use Proper Storage Techniques
To avoid contributing to holiday waste, ensure that you're storing your decor properly between celebrations. By doing so, you're able to extend its life—which saves you money and keeps landfills a little less cluttered.
Instead of tossing everything in a box, that could look like carefully wrapping ornaments in newspaper to prevent breakage, or wrapping string lights around a piece of cardboard. Your future self will thank you.
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