When it comes to the holidays, especially Christmas, it always seems like the pressure knob is turned to full blast! (No? It’s just me?) Meals to plan, family members to pick-up and drop off, gifts to wrap, don’t even get me started about decorating… Santa’s list is far from being the only one that’s a mile long. Can I get an amen?
On top of all of that I’m supposed to keep my environmental impact to a minimum. Ok, got it. (Insert dramatic eye roll here.) But in all seriousness, it is something I have vested interest in. I definitely want there to be a North Pole for me to tell my potential kids about, right? Like, there has to be snow and a boreal forest for Rudolph to exist! So, all jokes aside, I had to do the research to figure out how to minimize my environmental impact through the holidays, and somehow not feel MORE stressed by the task.
Well, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Let’s take a look at the 6 ways to easily, yet drastically improve your planet-friendliness this Christmas season…
- Nix the Wrapping Paper!
Not only will it save you a ton of money and prevent you from having to store rolls in your attic (or under your bed, or in the back of your closet, or all of the above if you’re a crazy hoarder like I am), but it will be the quickest way to totally minimize your holiday-specific waste.
Whether you choose to skip the wrapping paper altogether or not is totally up to you. If that’s not something you’re interested in though, may I recommend getting a little creative? Consider wrapping your gifts in…
- Newspaper – The comics’ section makes a great wrap for kids and adults alike.
- Brown kraft parcel paper – Way cheaper than standard wrapping paper and recyclable!
- A reusable bag – Anything from a (re)recyclable grocery tote to a make-up clutch. Something that will last the gift receiver far longer than the 32 seconds it takes them to open your incredible gift!
Keep in mind – Most wrapping papers are NON-RECYCLABLE. As in, they’re trash. Straight up, garbage. Things like foil, glitter, tape, and metallic elements contaminate recyclable fibers therefore are no good in your blue bin! RecycleNow.com is an great resource to double-check what is and is not safe to recycle. They have a simple test to tell whether or not your wrapping paper can be recycled… They call it “The Scrunch Test”. Give it a try and keep it in mind next time you had to Target’s discount section post-Christmas looking for 80% mark-downs on wrapping paper!
- DIY gifts, supporting local businesses, & buying from friends – Oh my!
You know that one friend from high school that now sells essential oils and won’t leave you alone on Facebook? Guess what… Now’s the perfect time to hit them up! I’m only joking. Don’t do that. But you get where I’m going, right? Whether you’re a creative individual or your know a creative/entrepreneurial individual this is the perfect time to put them to work.
Stop by that cool local shop on your way home from work and get everyone on your list the beeswax candle of their dreams. Order from that artist on Etsy that you’ve been stalking for 8 months. Or write your loved one a note. (Like, a real one. Pen to paper.)
Spending at local markets supports community members right in your hometown vs. sending the money overseas and having to deal with the shipping impact of your purchase. Lots of people opt for the convenience factor of online shopping without realizing the toll it takes on the environment with things like next-day or 2-day shipping + free returns. When you start adding up that drive time though… It seems like a lot of gasoline burned. If you must order online (We’re only human after all) make sure you’re doing your best to order more than one thing at a time and select for them to be delivered together if/when presented as an option! Less trips by the delivery drivers = a greener holiday!
If you’re up to the task, try planning a trip with a friend or a few family members to your town’s local weekend farmers market. Oh, and don’t forget a list! And I’m not talking about of items – I’m talking about the people! Simply write down the names of people you’re interested in gifting to this year. Go with an open mind and see if something you didn’t expect makes the perfect gift!
And… If all else fails. There’s that friend on Facebook with the oils.
- Don’t give a gift, give an experience!
My personal favorite!
Forego the gift that will be sadly forgotten within a couple weeks after Christmas and get your loved ones, big and small, something they’ll remember! Bonus: It’s something that doesn’t meet its demise in a landfill. Experiences!
A lot of people shoot this down thinking it’s way out of their price range, but there are so many affordable options to fit any budget. Things like…
- A trip to your local zoo or aquarium. – Keep an eye on Groupon for even better deals and some fun and funky suggestions!) Whether it’s a day trip with their favorite aunt, or an annual membership for the family, the cost is up to you but it’s something that they won’t soon forget!
- Tickets to a concert or a sports game. – This one is good for all ages. Don’t know what to get your best bro? Go see a game with him! Your Mom has been dying to go see Barry Mannilow? Get her 2 tickets to go with Cheryl from her office. You get the idea! This one is almost foolproof if you know the person well.
- Ear piercing. – Your tween cousin has been begging her parents to get her ears pierced, ask for their blessing, and if received, make a day of it!
- An at home spa day. – Both cost effective and more eco-friendly than going to the spa is a at-home spa day! Make a voucher on your computer and print it out offering your services to a loved one! Anything from a mani-pedi, to a face mask, or foot massage! Get creative and spend some time pampering someone you care about!
At the end of the day, quality time with your family or friends trumps a gift anyway (Maybe not to your 4 year old nephew, but crayons work for him anyway). They will appreciate your thoughtfulness and resourcefulness and you don’t have to worry about a small kitchen appliance, Barbie doll, or travel tool set ending up in the garbage or a yard sale in 6 months. Plus, one study shows that too many toys are bad for kids anyway…
- Creative gift-giving techniques.
While we’re on the topic of gift-giving anyway, let’s talk about the actual number of gifts we give. Maybe you’re from a family like mine of neurotic-yet-lovely over planners that really like to get involved with each others’ plans come this time of the year.
While my family was not super eco-conscious growing up, they were however, extremely frugal. Little did they know, the one gift rule they enforced would also be so incredibly environmentally aware! (Those hipsters…) But seriously! Implementing some fun and easy ways to minimize your purchases and therefore minimize your waste is a super simple way to stay green this Christmas! Talk to your family or group of friends about trying out…
- A one-gift rule. – The way my family does this is writing down all of the family members’ names on strips of paper and dropping them into a stocking (Because we’re festive like that), and then each person draws a name. Viola! That’s who you’re buying for!
- White Elephant. – Yes, the classic office gift exchange game; except there’s potential for it be even better with your circle of friends or family that really know each other. Nothing says “in the Christmas spirit” like stealing a blender from your grandma! SecretSanta.com has a really in depth explanation of what a White Elephant gift exchange is if you’re into that kind of thing.
So we’ve tackled actually buying less which ultimately produces less waste, but you can even take it a step further… Challenge your gift exchange participants to try out some options we went over in #2 or maybe even narrow the field of options by making it a Green Elephant exchange! All gifts must be promoting a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle… Bamboo toothbrushes, reusable water bottles, glass tupperware, etc.
- Choose your dishware wisely…
Ok, ok, ok… This one isn’t as cut and dry as the others. If you’re hosting the holiday meal this year some things to keep in mind in an effort to reduce energy consumption, but also be mindful of single-use dishware.
- If you have access to a dishwasher, go for the china and silverware! A study in 2004 showed that the average dishwasher uses only 4 gallons of water and got the dishes far cleaner than the average hand washer who used nearly 27 gallons of water! Make sure your dishwasher is full before running it through though, and skip the heated dry setting to save even more electricity! Simply open the door after the rinse cycle completes and let your dishes air-dry.
- If you don’t have a dishwasher – Keep in mind, dirty paper plates are NON-RECYCLABLE. Food contaminants, grease, oil, crumbs, etc. all prevent the paper from being a clean recyclable option. Thankfully there are now compostable and biodegradable options available at most large retail chains like your local WalMart or Target. These greener options serve the same purpose and work beautifully in place of a standard paper plate.
Same rules apply when thinking of cutlery or drink-ware… When possible have your guests use the real deal and then pop ‘em in the dishwasher. When it’s not possible, compostable paper plates and cutlery are your next best bet! With drink-ware, a recyclable plastic is the next best option to dishwasher-safe glassware. To make sure they can be recycled make sure you do a quick rinse… Put a couple inches of water in your kitchen sink, give each cup a quick spin, just enough to make sure there’s no dry Cab Sav in the bottom.
And understand, everyone is human! We’re just doing our best to produce less waste, save water and energy, and have an easy Christmas. So, think twice before you smack your older brother when you see him eating mashed potatoes off the serving spoon, think of the environmental impact his choice of saving dishes has made!
- Recycle your Christmas tree.
When it comes to breaking down your Christmas decorations, don’t forget about that tree! (This only applies to real trees, not the one you put back in the box.) The National Christmas Tree Association (yes, it’s a thing) has put together a pretty comprehensive list of options for responsibly disposing of your holiday evergreen…
- If you have a yard waste container cut your tree down into pieces that will fit and let your usual pick-up team work their magic!
- The Boy Scouts have made efforts over the past few years to offer tree pick-ups within their communities for a small donation.
- Most local recycling services include tree pick-ups within the weeks following Christmas. If you want to double check, it never hurts to give your local service a quick call to make sure they will be offering this service before you haul your tree curbside!
- If you happened to get a rooted tree, post-Christmas is the time to PLANT IT! What a fabulous family outing and incredible new holiday tradition.
- Have a mulcher? Or does your neighbor Larry? Reuse your Christmas tree in a different form. Mulch it and use it in your own yard in planter beds or along paths.
There are honestly so many incredible ways to make sure your tree doesn’t end up in the landfill surrounded by poisonous waste. It will feel good to know your Christmas season ends on a green note after all the decorations are put away and the lights have come down.
When it’s all said and done, the greenest thing you can do this Christmas season is take a deep breath and focus on time vs. things. Fight the urge to be the ultimate consumer and “outshop” your family members or friends. And if you’ve already made your plans for Christmas this year, keep some of these in mind when it comes to celebrating other gift-giving holidays throughout the year! Plus – There’s always next year.
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Erin Morgan is the Art Director at WooBamboo! who also moonlights as a blog writer. She enjoys Netflix & chilling with her husband as well as drinking an obscene amount of coffee. She’s been with WooBamboo! since September 2019.