Ho Ho Hold the Waste this Holiday Season

The holidays are a time of great gatherings, decadent meals, and reconnecting with friends and family. While ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, the extravagance of the season can have a big impact on the planet.

When you think of the holidays, what comes to mind for you? My guess is lists and more lists: what to eat, what to gift, what to pack and all of the supplies needed to ‘get through’ the holidays. From these activities, we produce a tonne of garbage, particularly from single-use items.

Just think of the wrapping paper, tape, ribbons and bows that adorn Christmas presents and trees each year, paper napkins and Styrofoam plates, and packaging from all of the gifts given. All of this quickly becomes waste and leaves its mark on our planet for generations to come.

So what can you do? Don’t despair! There are many great alternatives you can take up this holiday season. Consider some of the following ideas to ‘spruce’ up your holiday celebrations while making things greener than ever:

Rethink Gifting

Gift giving is one of the most stressful parts of the holidays. We often try to find the best present for someone else, balancing what we can afford with what they might like best. The mad dash to accomplish shopping for a long list of loved ones in crowded malls is pretty stressful, so let’s flip this tradition!

If your family has not tried changing up gift giving, focus first on buying less. As a family, try drawing names and shopping for only one person, or substitute a wrapped gift for a low-impact outing together.

If that’s not your thing, try this simple rhyme when making a list for loved ones—and for yourself!

  • Something you want: an item you would like
  • Something you need: an important practical thing that you will put to use, like outdoor gear or for a class
  • Something to wear: Clothing is the perfect example of a practical everyday item you will put to use, guaranteed!
  • Something to read: You not only get a good adventure out of reading, but a reminder to stop and relax.
  • Something to give: Donate time, money or supplies to a worthy cause. (Scouts Canada’ No One Left Behind program is a great example!)

For an additional challenge, choose local products as often as you can. Buying local not only add a bit of sentiment to your choices, but also supports businesses and neighbours in your community.

Remember that the best gifts are not always the biggest or most expensive, but in the ones that show how much thought and care you put into them. As much as the singing mounted fish might be a funny gift, will it be used again?

Opt For a Real Tree

Every year, Scout Groups across the country fundraise at Christmas tree lots. Good news: putting up a real tree instead of an artificial tree is a great eco option. Aside from not buying a tree, the best choice you can make is to buy a real tree. Provided your tree does not end up in a landfill, the distance travelled and materials produced to grow a real tree outweighs the long distance and plastic production from oil in order to manufacture and ship an artificial tree to you. When properly composted, a real tree is about as eco-friendly as you can get.

Wrapping Alternatives

The Japanese fabric wrapping technique Furoshiki is something cool you may want to try out this year, and the gift recipient receives a practical cloth instead of a heap of crinkled paper. Pretty much anything can be wrapped in this style, with beautiful results as detailed as any conventionally wrapped present. Check out some examples here.

If you really want to continue to use wrapping paper, follow a few important tips:

  • Choose paper products that are not plastic-lined. These products are impossible to recycle in most communities across Canada. If there is glitter or shiny parts on the pattern, chances are it’s a paper-plastic blend.
  • Opt for recycled wrap where possible, and ensure your paper is sourced from sustainable forests (look for the FSC or SFI logo on the package).
  • Finally, if wrapping is not your thing, opt for a reusable gift bag! You can reuse them each year—and they make wrapping presents much easier!

Every community has different recycling standards, so take a moment to look up how and what to recycle in yours over the holidays. Inform your guests from out of towners.

Take It Slow

The way we move around can have a big impact on the environment. If there is a reasonable alternative mode of transit (train, carpool, or even a fuel-efficient car), you will produce far less pollution than any flying. If you have to fly, extend your trip. The emissions produced from your take-off and landing have a huge impact that can’t be offset simply by recycling or choosing vegetarian meals for a year (though these are good things to do!). Stay longer, and fly less often.

Stroll lit-up neighbourhoods by walking instead of driving. My childhood holidays were spent idling in a slough of cars going through the neighbourhood’s best light display. Instead of driving, look for a recommended route and walk parts of it instead. Just remember to bundle up!

Finally, many of us look to online shopping for gift giving at this time of year. While it can seem just as easy to opt for next-day delivery as it is to pick up something last minute at a store, next-day delivery prioritizes your one package over less impactful delivery methods. Plan in advance.

No matter how you enjoy the holidays, keep the planet in mind. The holidays are a time when we gather close with loved ones, and we learn from each other. Take a moment this holiday season to choose a greener option, and let others know why it is important.

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