The Holidays are a time to get together, eat great food, build memories, and do all the wonderful things that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. However, it is also a time when wasteful consumer behaviours tend to become exacerbated. To help inspire more sustainable Holiday habits, Climate Reality Leaders from across Canada have come together to prepare this guide to greening your Holidays. From decorations to gifts to meals, read on if you’re interested in making this Holiday season your most sustainable yet!
Decorations can be expensive and unsustainable, from tacky plastic ornaments to inefficient lights. According to Zero Waste Canada (2017), Canadians produce 545,000 tonnes of waste from gift- wrapping and shopping bags, and 6 million rolls of tape to wrap up Christmas presents each year. Household waste can increase more than 25% in the holiday season, thus, here are some tips for decor and gift wrapping (Zero Waste Canada, 2017).
- Handcraft the decorations you can – knitting stockings or making your own wreath can be a fun way to spend time together while caring for the planet and saving money.
- Reuse tree decorations year after year instead of purchasing new ones.
- Instead of using plastic ornaments, create biodegradable tree decor using dried oranges and popcorn - the original christmas decor!
- Use a real holiday tree (and compost it after use) to avoid plastic trees that take years to break down or decorate a house plant!
- Switch to LED lights this holiday to increase energy efficiency.
- Additionally, use a holiday light timer to avoid the hassle of turning the lights off and on constantly.
- Use sustainable wrapping paper like brown paper, material, or even newspaper! It’s a great way to save money and the planet at the same time. You can add red yarn to tie it up for a more holiday feel.
- E-cards or Handcrafted cards are a great alternative to buying cards that are not recyclable. It also adds a touch of personality to show your loved ones how much they really mean to you.
The holidays are a time of year to celebrate with our family. We all have favourite foods and traditions associated with eating during the holiday. Even though it is tempting to make more food than your guests can eat, this can create food waste.
If you are looking for ways to green your holidays, don’t forget to look at your dinner table. Agriculture has a large carbon footprint (https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/11/1105172) and throwing out food makes the problem worse (https://unfccc.int/news/fighting-food-waste-means-fighting-climate-change). The good news is there are simple ways to reduce your meal’s carbon footprint without sacrificing deliciousness. They can be broken down into meal planning, food sourcing, and waste management..
This is the easiest place to make a difference, and a bit of planning goes a long way. Here are some tips:
- Plan for the number of people at the table. If you are inviting four people for dinner, don’t make enough food for 20. If you still want the table to look abundant you can make smaller dishes and have a tapas-inspired meal. Many recipes include the number of people it will serve, which can help you plan if you are trying something new.
- Leftovers can save you time later. I know there are people who do not like leftovers, and if this is you, careful meal planning is even more important. Still, for those of us who love leftovers, a holiday dinner can provide easy meals for several days. If you freeze the leftovers they become a gift to future you. Of course, this means you have to make sure food is not left out on the counter for hours. Food safety is important.
- Repurpose your ingredients. Turkey sandwiches (https://www.countryliving.com/food-drinks/g1575/turkey-sandwich-recipes/) and leftover cranberry sauce (https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/delicious-ways-to-use-leftover-cranberry-sauce/) are just a couple examples of planning how to use ingredients. Roasted vegetables can go in soup, gravy can become the base for a soup, and so much more. Make sure to have a plan for ingredients that you don’t use up. Stir-fries, soups, and curries are flexible dishes that can use up those last few brussel sprouts or leftover carrots.
- For potlucks, only bring less food than you think and assign courses. If you are having a potluck meal, don’t plan a full serving for everyone. It sounds scary, but it is the right choice because otherwise you make way too much food. Instead, assign a few people to soups, salads, main dishes, and desserts. That way everyone can try some.
- Reduce or eliminate meat and dairy. Some foods have higher carbon footprints. Meat and dairy have the highest impact, so reducing or eliminating these foods from your meals makes a difference. https://css.umich.edu/factsheets/carbon-footprint-factsheet
- Consider sourcing and seasonality. Local food often, but not always, has a smaller carbon footprint (https://green.harvard.edu/news/do-food-miles-really-matter). However, there are other reasons to buy from a local producer that are missed by looking exclusively at carbon footprint.
- Eat what’s on your plate. This childhood rule is important because you can use leftovers, but once it is on someone's plate it should not be re-served. It is not longer food safe. To do this you should let guests serve themselves, and guests should only take as much as they want to eat. Using smaller plates helps people take as much as they need.
- Ask guests to bring containers. The only thing better than leftovers for yourself are leftovers for everyone. Ask guests to bring containers and send them home with food.
- Compost. If you are lucky to live in a municipality or with that has a compost system this will be easy. If not, composting outside or with vermicompost is useful. Food waste that goes to the landfill produces methane and leads to climate change
- Food scraps can be used for soup stock. https://tasty.co/recipe/how-to-make-veggie-stock-with-kitchen-scraps Carrot ends and trimming, onion skins, celery heels, and herb stems are popular. I also use garlic and ginger skins and peelings from root vegetables but it reduces the clarity. If you don’t mind a slightly bitter broth you can add any green. Make sure the trimmings are still in good shape, you are not making compost soup.
When preparing your gift shopping list, bear in mind that presents come in all shapes and sizes, and don’t have to be a new, store-bought item. Here are a few tips to spark your imagination!
Plan activities that create a special moment of event, such as giving a family heirloom jewelry, teaching a new skill to a child or grandchild (how to play an instrument), passing to family members a story of generations long past (a favourite aunt’s adventure etc). You may also offer a special outing (the planetarium, a bird sanctuary, etc), any outdoor adventure - snowshoeing, hikes, building snow forts, tobogganing, teach an “old skill” (making sourdough, knitting, etc). Tickets for events are also a great idea to give an intangible but memorable gift; think movie tickets, shows, theater, plays, concerts, restaurant gift cards,etc.
Homemade gifts, such as baking, artwork, a knitted scarf or a picture collection, are always appreciated and extra personal. Some groups even do DIY gift exchanges, which always leads to fun and creative results.
Give the gift of your time
Another original idea is offering your time as a present. For example, you could offer an evening of babysitting to give a couple a carefree evening out, or even help a loved one with indoor chores.
Other immaterial gifts
Making a donation in the name of someone else is a very thoughtful gift idea. Find out which causes are near and dear to the person, and make a donation that suits your budget. Another intangible yet very special gift is passing on a family traditional
Regifting special items such as paintings, books, or sports equipment, is a wonderful way to make someone’s day while also giving items a second life. House plants, or bulbs to be planted in spring, are wonderful presents for nature lovers. Check out your local thrift store or church bazaar to scope out some hidden treasures!
And remember: deliver your gift in person if at all possible!
According to Stanford University, waste production increases by 25% during the Holidays. This translates into 25 million tons of garbage, or about 1 million extra tons per week. We all want to express our love to our family and friends, and here are some easy tips for a more sustainable Holiday! Happy Susta-Holidays!
- Use old newspapers for wrapping your gifts or even go without.
- Try preparing your holiday dinner with organic and local products.
- Use energy-saving LEDs for holiday lights.
- Buy your Christmas Tree in a local place and support local farms (chemical-free) or even try to make your own tree with fun materials like books, paper, wine bottles, old woods, etc. Sky's the limit!
- Time for DIY Gifts! Make handcrafts or DIY Gifts like handmade soap, homemade ornaments, etc. Give it a change to imagination (more ideas? see below in sustainable giving).
- Buy locally.
- Eco-friendly ornaments. Try creating new and fun ideas for your holiday ornaments, using newspaper or even dry orange slices (plus you’ll love the smell).
The Holidays are About Love and Empathy
From giving intangible, DIY or repurposed gifts to using sustainable wrapping and decorations, there are endless ways to make your Holidays more sustainable. We hope that this handful of tips has provided some inspiration for you to green your Holiday celebrations. Remember: the Holidays will be all the more enjoyable and memorable if they are rooted in empathy and care for the planet and all its inhabitants. Happy (green) Holidays!
Cornish, N. (2019, December 8). 17 tips for a more sustainable Christmas this year. House Beautiful. https://www.housebeautiful.com/uk/lifestyle/shopping/g25616166/sustainable-christmas/?slide=17