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10 Tips for a Green Christmas

How to celebrate the holidays while minimizing your environmental impact

As the holidays approach, many of us are feeling the crunch of last-minute Christmas shopping. It can be easy to get caught up in excessive holiday spending at this time of year, which ultimately leads to an increase in waste. ZeroWaste Canada estimates the average Canadian throws out around 50 kilograms of garbage during the holidays, up 25 percent from the rest of the year. This is especially alarming to hear following years of reports telling us the planet is doomed if we don't change our wasteful ways.

Additionally, with much of the global shipping system still reeling from the ongoing pandemic, it may be tricky to find everything you want in stores this year. But don't fret; there are still plenty of alternatives to buying Christmas gifts – and many of them are better for our planet in the long run. Check out our list of easy ways to have a green Christmas below!

1. Make some cookies

Christmas cookies are a classic and easy gift you can make for your friends, family or coworkers.

Gifting homemade treats is a great way to reduce unnecessary buying, and they also make a great addition to any holiday potluck or party.

Using reusable tins or boxes will cut down on waste from wrapping and packaging - plus, if they return them - you can reuse them next year.

2. Shop local!

If you live in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, there are plenty of annual holiday markets, craft fairs and bazaars where you can find unique, handmade gifts! (You can find a list of events in the area here!).

When you choose to shop local, not only are you supporting artisans and makers right in your home community, but you're also minimizing travel time. In our fuel-based economy, products shipped or flown from overseas or even across the country generate a large carbon footprint. Shopping local helps cut down on air pollution and fuel consumption.

3. Use recycled paper or fabric to wrap gifts

ZeroWaste Canada estimates Canadians throw out around 540,000 tonnes of gift bags and wrapping paper every year. That's a lot of waste! Additionally, because of the dyes used in wrapping paper, many cities don't recycle them.

Use kraft paper – not only is natural kraft paper recyclable and biodegradable, but you can also easily decorate it with stamps, paint or even use crayons to add a festive touch!

(BUT if you decorate it with acrylic paint, don't throw it in the compost as these paints are NOT biodegradable and can be harmful to waterways.)

Using fabric or scarves is another fun and eco-friendly way to wrap gifts.

4. Use a timer for your tree lights

Using a timer for your tree lights is a great way to ensure you aren't wasting electricity (and potentially creating a fire hazard) when you're not at home. If you're forgetful, having a timer is a great way to make sure you only have the lights on when you need them.

5. Make homemade cards (or don't)

Sending Christmas cards is part of an annual tradition for those with family members and loved ones far away. But many store-bought cards come wrapped in plastic or non-recyclable materials and can end up creating waste! Switching to handmade cards can be a fun activity for a holiday get-together and add a nice personal touch. If you're concerned about generating waste through Christmas cards (as Canadians throw out around 2.6 billion Christmas cards every year), you can also opt for an e-card or even a phone call to wish your loved ones Merry Christmas.

6. Organize a gift exchange

Organizing a family (or friends, or roommate) gift exchange or a Secret Santa is a great way to cut back on excessive Christmas shopping. Rather than buying something small for everyone, you just have to focus on a meaningful gift for one person.

7. Re-gifting!

Whoever said re-gifting was rude was probably just not great at giving their loved ones good (or useful) gifts. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ As long as you're not re-gifting to the same person that gave you the unwanted gift, you're good! Re-gifting is environmentally friendly because it's a way of repurposing things that may otherwise go to waste. Why keep something you don't need? There are also plenty of local organizations in need of donations like toiletries, clothing, bedding and more. Donating things you won't use to these groups is a great way to ensure they help people in need – right in your own community!

8. Bring a reusable bag shopping

Many of us may already be in the habit of bringing shopping bags on our trips to the grocery store, but this is an excellent practice for holiday shopping as well!

9. Choose a real wreath (or make one!)

Rather than buying a plastic wreath made of petroleum products, try opting for a natural wreath. Not only does it smell like a Christmas tree every time you walk by, but it can also be composted when you're done with it. But if you already have an artificial wreath or Christmas tree, don't worry, not all is lost!

They can still be eco-friendly as long as you reuse them for a long time.

According to Greenpeace Canada, "an artificial tree has to be in circulation for at least eight years – but ideally 20 – to reduce its carbon footprint."

10. Use decorations that will last

Whether it's for a Christmas tree at home or you're decorating your workplace, it can be tempting just to grab some cheap decorations from the dollar store.

Rather than increasing demand for new, plastic-based decorations, you can:

  • buy decorations secondhand (check your local thrift stores and vintage shops)

  • make your own decorations - this could be a great team-building activity for work!

  • buy decorations made from sustainable materials (like wood, wool or recycled material)

  • try biodegradable decorations - like a dried orange garland, popcorn garland or spruce garland

Wishing all who celebrate a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Did you like these tips? Check out our Instagram for a shareable version of the graphic below!

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