Santa Claus is coming to town. Families are busy planning their holidays, malls and markets are ablaze with bright lights and larger than life decorations, radio stations have started playing Christmas songs, and people are already marking days for shopping in their planners. The air is swell with yuletide cheer.
When everything around you leaves you heady with a festive anticipation it’s difficult not to get carried away. Eat, drink, be merry, and shop til’ you drop seems to be the theme of the season. But whether you are ready for a white Christmas or are all set to celebrate it the beach, BBQ, and beer way like in Australia, make sure to keep it green as well. Have an eco-conscious yuletide and celebrate without making the Earth suffer.
In case you are finding yourself at a loss for ideas on how to do that, here’s some inspiration:
1) One, two, tree: Christmas trees are the biggest symbol and an integral part of the Yuletide season. And several millions of trees, real and fake, are bought during this time across the globe. And the sad truth is none of them are really environment friendly. The real ones have mostly been grown using unsustainable practices, pesticides, and chemical fertilisers or have clocked hundreds of miles from northern European plantations before reaching your lounge. The fake ones are, well, made of plastic and are therefore even worse offenders when it comes to polluting the environment and again are mostly shipped in from foreign countries.
So what does an environmentally conscious person, who doesn’t want to give up their Christmas tree tradition, to do? Well, your best bet is to get at least as sustainable with it as you can. Try and look for a real one that has been organically harvested under socially sustainable conditions. And look for local growers, like Earth 1st.
You can even rent a live tree for the festive season for a small charge. A lot of garden centres and websites offer this service. You can check out websites like Forever Christmas and Elf Help. That way you get to enjoy your tree without having to clear up the mess. And these trees are replanted each year, where they continue to grow and provide all the benefits of a live tree to the environment.
Or better still you can go for a local Wollemi pine tree or a cypress and even assist in the conservation of these very rare species.
Once you are done with the celebrations, most councils have Xmas tree recycle plans in place wherein you can drop your tree at a collection point, book for a collection at your doorstep, or chop it up and put it in the green bin to be made into wood chips later.
And if you cannot or don’t want to opt for a real tree for whatever reason, you can look at something different like One Two Tree - made from sustainable wood that you get to build yourself. If your heart is set on traditional, try to buy a good, sturdy fake one that you can reuse year after year instead of a cheap plastic one that would barely survive a single season.
2) Bright but right: And now that you have gone green with the tree try to stay the same with the decorations too. For one, keep it simple. Cluttered decorations neither inspire nor please.
And while tinsel-coated and glittery plastic trinkets sit pretty on your tree they are mostly made of PVC which is a major environmental pollutant. A good idea is to use ornaments made of natural materials like wood, cloth, wool, cotton, burlap, and metal. Hand-crafted, artisan made ornaments are not only durable but also have an ethnic air about them that adds a beautiful energy to your home. You would be spoilt for choice for such decorative items at websites like Etsy.
And better still if you are the creative kinds and can make something on your own. There are hundreds of easily available, affordable, and in some cases even free, materials that you can use to make some really pretty ornaments. Pine cones, twigs, stones, old fabrics, sea shells, felt, wool, ribbons, scrap paper, dried fruits, and spices all can be made into beautiful hangings, buntings, and wreaths. You can also make ginger-bread ornaments decorated with colourful icing and hang them on your tree with ribbons or twine and eat them as the season goes on.
Making natural decorations is not only good for the environment but can also provide some great fun and bonding time for the whole family in the run up to Christmas. You can also go to places like Reverse Garbage to source some fun materials to make your decorations from.
Also, use energy-efficient LED lights to decorate your tree and create the perfect winter wonderland in your home. They use up to 90% less power than traditional bulbs and also last longer. Replacing burnt out old bulbs and using timers to switch off the lights on their own are also good ways to save on power.
3) Gift sense: Few things can match the excitement and anticipation that comes with getting up early on Christmas morning to open the gifts you have got under the Christmas tree. When it’s such a big deal why not make it special by putting some thought into what you gift instead of buying run-of-the-mill stuff. Start sooner rather than later so that you have enough time to buy, make, or plan the perfect green gift.
Just like decorations, even homemade gifts are not a difficult thing to make and are so much more personal. You can make some craft items like ornaments, paintings, pottery, etc. or can knit, sew or embroider. Baking and cook something to gift is also a good idea and you can prepare it in a large quantity to gift to everyone. Gifting prints and personal photographs is also sure to bring a happy smile. All you need is to put your thinking cap on and get going.
Instead of a tangible gift, you could even gift an experience, for a change. There are hundreds of workshops and events to help people engage in eco-friendly, fun, and creative activities. You can register friends and family for workshops like, candle-making, tie-and-dye, crafts from recycled materials, ceramic and pottery making, wool craft, etc. If someone is an outdoorsy person, you can gift them a permaculture, organic gardening, composting, bee-keeping, community gardens, or food foraging workshop, like a mushroom hunt, urban foraging, etc. Succulents and mini herb-gardens also make for interesting gift options. You can also check out farmers and community markets selling organic produce and crafts, by local artisans to buy eco-friendly gifts.
Check out websites like Weekend Notes, CropSwap Sydney or Sustainable City Living initiative by City of Sydney and you will be spoilt for choice for ideas. What’s more, you could even find some free workshops as well on these sites.
Eco-friendly products also make for good gifts that people can hold, admire, and cherish for days to come. You can opt for hand-made jewellery sourced from recycled materials (www.etsy.com), dresses and accessories made from environment-friendly materials and processes (www.ethicalsuperstore.com, www.ecobella.com.au, www.ozfairtrade.org), natural cosmetics (www.biome.com.au, www.organicearthshop.com.au), handicrafts and artisan made gifts sourced from fair-trade organisations across the globe (www.ethicalgifts.net.au). Or just buy a gift-card to businesses selling eco-friendly products in your area. This way you help that business thrive while your friends get to pick a green gift of their choice.
Chocolates make for a large part of Christmas gifts. So when you buy these sweet treats make sure they are Fairtrade with no palm oil. Most chocolate in super-markets abounds in sneaky palm oil and cocoa grown under environmentally unsustainable conditions, exploitative practices and forced labour. So by buying Fairtrade chocolate we are not only choosing a good quality product but also taking a stand against deforestation, human trafficking, and child labour. Many stores in Australia, like, Aldi, Coles, Chocolatier Australia, Haigh’s Chocolates, etc. sell Fairtrade chocolate. Look for chocolates with Fairtrade, UTZ, or Rainforest Alliance certification on the packets.
And don’t forget to ensure you wrap up the gifts in an eco-friendly manner too. Avoid wrapping gifts altogether if you can. But if you must wrap avoid buying fancy foil and papers that are hard to recycle. Opt for recycled wrapping paper, handmade paper or even plane brown packing paper that looks trendy and is easily degraded in the environment. Use natural strings and ribbons to tie them up instead of a Sellotape.
And as for all the unwanted presents, there is nothing bad about re-gifting. Or you can donate them to charity organisations. Another way to give them away is through sharing economy organisations, like freecycle.org.
4) Green feast: Who doesn’t love a lavish Christmas dinner! But being mindful about what you put on your plate might just add to the cheer. After all, there’s something extremely satisfying about making a conscious decision to do the right thing.
Ever increasing meat and dairy consumption around the world is one of the main causes of global warming. So, going lower on the food chain for your Christmas dinner can make it so much more sustainable. Roast your turkey if you must but try to include more fruits and veggies in the feast. Also, you can take up the challenge to cook using only locally sourced ingredients this year. Buy free-range and organic stuff from local and farmer’s markets. This would mean your food has travelled less miles and has a lower carbon footprint. Check out Local Harvest to find good food close to you. You can also look at the Australian Farmers Market Guide to find your local food market.
Also there are several little things you can do to ensure that your Christmas feast is eco-friendly. Try to create the table centrepiece from natural stuff, such a pine wreaths and beeswax candles, instead of opting for plastic-made lifeless decorations.
Instead of using single-use plastic, and Styrofoam disposable cups, plates, and cutlery, opt for stuff that is non-toxic, bio-degradable, and eco-friendly. A range of options are now available made from compostable materials like, bamboo pulp, sugarcane pulp, palm leaves, PLA (Poly lactic acid), PSM (70% plant based Bio-plastic, 30% conventional plastic), etc. You can even get paper straws. And what’s more they won’t even burn a hole in your pocket.
Try to refrain from cooking and buying more food than you would need. And if there are leftovers still, freeze them for later or donate them. Donating is a great way of contributing to the community and can mean not going empty-stomach for an individual or a family. There are charities that rescues excess food, which would otherwise be discarded, and distribute it to people in need.
Food scraps that go into landfill break down without oxygen to produce methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas and 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. To prevent this, try composting your food scraps or use them in a Bokashi bin. Not only would you have reduced waste but also get natural organic fertiliser for your garden.
Also, preserving, drying or pickling left-over fruits and veggies are also good ways to prevent perfectly fine food from going to waste. Check out our Larder Love series for inspiration and keep an eye out for the Christmas edition next week.
5) Mind over matter: More than anything what has caused the rapid deterioration of our environment is human apathy. And this stems mostly from a disconnect with Nature in pursuit of a 24/7 lifestyle that neither serves nor enriches us.
Among other things, take this holiday time to introspect and think in what ways you can exist on this planet better. Slow down, spend time with family and friends, cut down excessive internet usage, connect with Nature, and find things that interest you and make a resolution to make time for those. Pledge to make small lifestyle changes that serve the planet better: take public transport, buy local, follow the 3Rs: Refuse, Reuse and Recycle, buy less and use what you already have better, choose natural, recyclable, and biodegradable materials over plastic, carry your own bags, conserve energy and water, and try to grow and cook your own food.
A little consciousness in our daily decisions goes a long way in developing long-term sustainable habits that are good for us and good for the planet. This festive season let it be your pledge to live mindfully.
Have a Merry Green Christmas!