“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” proclaims a song we hear frequently this time of the year.
Unfortunately, it’s also the most wasteful.
Americans typically send a million more tons of waste to landfills between Thanksgiving and New Year than during the rest of the year.
The expense of that waste, mostly food, packaging, shopping bags, and wrapping paper, adds up. Fortunately, green habits you develop all year will help you celebrate an eco-friendly Christmas, too.
Packaging makes up a large portions of the waste stream, about 30%. Think of packaging as trash that you pay for before you throw it out.
One way to reduce trash is not to bring it home in the first place.
But a sustainable Christmas is not as simple as just choosing products with the least packaging.
How can you tell how much packaging you can’t see inside the packaging you can? Some packaging may be made of recycled materials or be more easily recycled than others.
Here’s an idea: shop at craft fairs or locally-owned shops not part of a major chain. You get distinctive gifts with minimal packaging.
Oh, and keep a supply of cloth shopping bags handy. Hand them over when a clerk asks, “‘paper or plastic?” Leave that trash at the store, too!
Nowadays lots of companies ship with bubble wrap or air-filled plastic “pillows.” So collect the packaging and keep it somewhere. Prefer it to packing peanuts or wadded newspaper when you send out your own packages. And encourage family and friends to do the same.
How about using gift bags for a more eco-friendly Christmas instead of wrapping paper? A little tissue paper will keep the contents hidden until it’s time to open them. Instead of throwing out the bag and tissue paper, reuse it over and over. If you can find tags to tie on instead of stick on, tie one around the handles to keep them shut.
People have differences of opinion over the merits of a cut tree vs an artificial one. If you prefer a cut tree, see about recycling it. Some municipalities collect discarded trees and chip them for mulch. There may be other options for reusing them. For ideas on recycling almost anything, check Earth911.
Reducing food waste
If anything beats packaging in volume, it’s food waste. And let’s not just blame restaurants and grocery stores. Consumers account for at least half of the food waste in this country.
In principle, an eco-friendly Christmas is no different than sustainable living the rest of the year. You’re probably just fixing food for a larger group of people than usual.
Reducing our share of food waste can result from a few simple habits:
- Don’t buy more perishable food than you can eat before it rots.
- When deciding what to eat, know what perishable food you have on hand, including opened cans or jars. Plan how to use it up.
- Either don’t cook more than you’ll eat, or cook enough for another meal. Then eat it or freeze it while it’s still good.
Investigate solar lights for outdoors.
The savings in electricity will soon offset the cost of buying new lights. Again, Earth911 will give you options for recycling the old ones.
Some people leave outdoor holiday lights on during the day. Why? They don’t look as good. There’s no need to keep them on all night, either.
Between about midnight and sunrise, not many people will be up and about to admire them. Even the lesser amount of electricity LEDs need is wasted if the lights are on unnecessarily.
If you’re concerned that you won’t be home to turn them on at dusk, you can put them on a timer.
Extra shopping at Christmas time means extra shopping trips and more gasoline used. Or does it? Planning your driving to minimize the distance you go saves money all year round. Plan your routes to minimize changes of direction. Combine multiple errands in one more or less circular path.
At Christmas, you may visit stores and other places you don’t go to the rest of the year. As much as possible, add them to your regular plans.
Also, the more your car weighs, the more fuel it takes to move it. So don’t use your trunk to store your Christmas shopping. Or accumulated junk.
When you have a lot of company, turn down the thermostat. Take advantage of everyone’s body heat
Christmas is a special time of the year. The habits necessary for an eco-friendly Christmas shouldn’t be special, though. They’re just the same ones you’re probably adopting all year.
Christmas lights. Some rights reserved by TwisterMc
Cloth shopping bags. Some rights reserved by lindsay.
Christmas dinner table. Photo by Miia Ranta. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons.
Green Christmas poster. Some rights reserved by dahon