As we get closer to the festive season, our overall consumption tends to skyrocket, so it's all the more important to use the Christmas holidays as a time to consider not just our physical health but also our environmental impact. Seasonal sustainability goes beyond being mindful of our festive footprint and encourages us to form lasting eco-friendly habits. From the Christmas tree to travel choices, this guide will help you make more eco-informed decisions this holiday.
Christmas time is the perfect holiday to put our planet-healthy practices to the test.
Making one sustainable purchase decision at a time when sales reach their peak during the holidays will help toward a greener future.
With a few simple adjustments to the gifts you choose, the tree you buy, and the way you travel to celebrations, you can help reduce your festive footprint.
Seasonal sustainability starts at home
It can be easy to overlook our homes when we consider sustainability around the holiday season, but they are key places in which we can do our bit for the planet.
During the holidays, it is common to see many houses decorated with bright Christmas lights and glowing festive scenes on front lawns. While this looks beautiful and encourages that festive feeling, the extra energy consumption isn't great for the planet. If you've got a light display, then make sure you are using energy-efficient LED lightbulbs and turn everything off at night and when you are away from home. Or, if you live somewhere with sunny winter days, consider solar-powered lights that work on a timer.
During the winter, when it feels like the cold gets right into our bones, it can be tempting to dial up the heat at home. However, leaving the heat on 24/7 is a huge energy drain and puts a strain on our planet's precious resources. Instead of having your radiators on full blast, or your air system blowing on hot, here are a few sustainable solutions to staying warm and cosy:
- Layer up with good-quality thermals to keep your core temperature up
- Address any insulation issues in your home
- Block any drafty doorways with draft excluders
- Use heavy curtains to keep in the heat
- Snuggle up with warm blankets and hot water bottles on the sofa
Stop the single-use
If you've got guests coming over, then think about ditching anything single-use. Go for proper plates instead of paper or plastic ones, use real cutlery over plastic knives and forks, and go for washable napkins over paper towels. When attending or hosting large gatherings, encourage guests to bring a bowl and cutlery of their own as part of a commitment to a more sustainable future. Letting people know you are doing it for the environmental impact will also foster more conversations around sustainability. We all share the responsibility to live in a kinder, greener way.
Gifts that keep on giving
One of the best ways you can have a more sustainable holiday season is by making shifts in your gift-giving and receiving practices. From asking for less to opting for wrapper-free gifts, here are some ways to help the planet with presents.
Family secret Santa
Christmas can sometimes mean that we get a whole lot of stuff that we just don't need from well-meaning friends and family, adding to the vast amount of waste that piles up every year. This holiday, try having a secret Santa with your friends and family instead of buying everyone multiple unnecessary gifts. Focus your attention on the quality of the gifts, not the quantity, and encourage friends and family to take their time to make thoughtful gift purchases.
Go wrapping paper-free
Wrapping paper is at the top of the list when it comes to Christmas waste, and it's such an easy issue to remedy. Here are a few wrapping paper alternative ideas:
- Wrap gifts in old scarves and pieces of fabric that can be reused
- Use old maps as wrapping paper and save them for next year
- Stop using wrapping paper altogether and decorate the gift with natural twine bows
- Put your gifts into recyclable paper bags that you can decorate and reuse
A plastic-free holiday
Plastic packaging is highly unsustainable and there is so much more of it around the Christmas holidays. In your friendship circle and with family, make it known that you do not want gifts that contain plastic or that come in plastic packaging. Shop at artisan markets, sustainable stores, and online retailers that offer plastic-free shipping.
The Christmas tree debate
Whether you are a traditional tree lover or a plastic tree fan, there has always been an ongoing debate about which is better from an ecological perspective. The answer isn't as straightforward as you might think.
Should you get a real tree or a plastic one?
Artificial trees have a much higher carbon footprint due to their production processes, but real trees aren't without their environmental cost either. From deforestation to transport emissions, a real tree isn't always the greenest option. If you already own a plastic tree, then the most environmentally sound thing you can do is to keep using it to maximize its lifespan rather than throwing it in the trash.
What about a potted Christmas tree?
If you have a yard, then think about a potted Christmas tree that you can bring into the home each year. It's an excellent choice in terms of environmental impact, but there are a few drawbacks to keep in mind.
Eco-friendly Christmas tree disposal
Most of us will have seen huge piles of discarded trees on street corners ready for landfill, making for a very sore sight and not at all good for the environment. Most communities have options for Christmas tree recycling, where they are either turned into wood chips for agricultural use, or made into habitats for wildlife in local conservation projects. Check in with your local waste disposal company and environmental groups to find out the best disposal options available to you.
Christmas travel tips
Christmas is a time when many of us travel to visit friends and family more than usual, which can have a negative impact on our environmental footprint. Here are a few top tips to keep your emissions as low as possible this holiday season:
- Consider celebrating closer to home
- If you travel around town, take eco-friendly options, like buses, trains, and trams
- Combine errands
- When traveling long distance, think about car-sharing
- If you have to fly, offset your emissions by supporting an environmental scheme
How to have a more sustainable food footprint this Christmas
Food production is incredibly energy intensive and is responsible for massive amounts of carbon emissions into our atmosphere. Your food choices around the holiday can make a huge difference.
To reduce the environmental impact of food transportation, try to shop locally wherever you can. You'll also be directly supporting farms, food growers, and businesses in your community, which is great for the local economy. Smaller stores often use less packaging on their produce, so you get the added benefit of plastic reduction, too.
Take the time to plan each meal carefully to reduce the risk of excessive food waste, which tends to happen around Christmas. If you know what you are eating and how much you need to buy for each ingredient, it's much more likely that you won't have to throw away huge amounts of food.
The environmental cost of industrial meat production is well documented and has a highly detrimental effect on the planet. Opting for a few meat-free days this holiday is a great way to step into a more sustainable Christmas and do your bit to protect the environment. Trying out new plant-based recipes can also be a great way to spend time with your family, experimenting with food while catching up with life events.
Approaching Christmas with a seasonal sustainability mindset will help you and your friends and family adopt planet-healthy practices that have a positive effect on the environment year-round.
Are LED Christmas lights more energy-efficient than traditional bulbs?
Yes, LED lights are more energy-efficient, last longer than incandescent bulbs, and consume less power.
How can I offset my Christmas travel footprint?
Invest in reputable carbon offsetting programs that support sustainability projects, such as renewable energy initiatives and reforestation schemes.
- Industrial Biotechnology. Rethinking food and agriculture 2020-2030: The second domestication of plants and animals, the disruption on the cow, and the collapse of industrial livestock farming.
- International Journal of Consumer Studies. Jingle bells or 'green' bells? The impact of socially responsible consumption upon consumer behaviour at Christmas time.