Each year, the Christmas season takes an ever-growing toll on our planet. Between Thanksgiving and New Years each year, American waste increases by 25%, amounting to about 25 million extra tons of garbage produced. With a constantly increasing strain on our environment, it’s important to do what we can to lessen this burden.
Use these nine ideas to help you have a green Christmas, without sacrificing your favorite traditions.
1. Make Your Own Decorations
It should come as no surprise that the material, manufacturing, and transport of Christmas decorations each year contributes heavily to emissions and waste. Even though most people have reusable decorations they bring out each year, you often have to replace some damaged ones or might just want a fresh look. Also, depending on your decor, certain things like table arrangements and holiday candles have to be purchased each and every year.
To help eliminate the environmental and monetary cost of buying new decorations, try making your own Christmas decorations this year. Get creative with anything you have around the house, including old decorations you can repurpose and even dehydrated fruit.
For more inspiration, use this as an opportunity to explore the winter wonderland and do some foraging for supplies. Schedule some outdoor Christmas activities to get the whole family outside. Mother nature has countless beautiful pieces you can incorporate into your decorations, including branches and boughs for wreath-making.
Want to get the whole family involved? Try these Pioneer Christmas Crafts For Kids.
2. Potted Christmas Tree
Each year, Americans cut down, use, and throw out over 15 million Christmas trees. Many people try to avoid wasting a live tree by purchasing a plastic, reusable tree. While these might seem like an easy way to make your Christmas more eco-friendly, fake trees aren't as good for the environment as you may assume.
Plastic trees require manufacturing, harmful materials, and transportation from their place of manufacturing to your front door. These factors add up to a significant environmental toll for just a single fake tree.
Furthermore, most people tend to throw out a fake tree after it starts to look old and worn. Although people expect to use a fake tree forever, they usually only make it several years before being disposed of and replaced. The issue then becomes what to do with the old, plastic tree. Unfortunately, they almost always end up in a landfill.
Instead, try starting your own potted Christmas tree. They’re a smaller, sustainable option that you can eventually plant outdoors after a few years in the pot. Learn more here about how to care for potted Christmas trees.
3. Give Gifts From Your Fall Harvest
Buying new gifts every year for family and friends takes a toll on the planet that can be drastically reduced by changing our thoughts on gift-giving. Unless you buy all of your gifts from local artisans using local materials, your gifts will likely have some kind of negative impact on the environment. Unfortunately, that’s a reality of modern-day supply chains.
Still, you should make an effort to buy gifts from local artisans and craftsmen. Despite what people say about the disappearing small businesses of America, you can still find many unique and high-quality gifts made by local entrepreneurs if you do a little digging. Use online marketplaces to search your area or ask community members for suggestions.
While it can be difficult to eliminate every environmental issue from the holiday supply chain, we can do our best to reduce our own contribution. Instead of buying gifts this season, try making your own gifts from your fall harvest. Whether you make baked goods, crafts, preservatives, or something else unique, everyone appreciates a thoughtful, hand-made gift.
4. Use Recycled or Reusable Gift Wrapping
As of 2018, Americans spent an estimated $11 billion annually on gift-wrapping, including 38,000 miles of ribbon. I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot higher than I would have guessed, especially considering these materials are almost immediately torn open and thrown away. This wasteful trend continues year-after-year with no apparent end in sight.
Fortunately, many different options are available to make gift-wrapping one of your green Christmas initiatives. Try using reusable cloth gift bags, or biodegradable, recycled wrapping paper. If you want to avoid buying a solution, reuse any wrapping paper or bags you have left from last Christmas. Old newspaper or butcher's paper works just fine as well.
If you have space, keep any ribbons or other wrapping-decorations to reuse next year. Open gifts carefully without tearing everything and you’ll be able to reuse the wrapping for a couple of years.
Lastly, if you have to use store-bought wrapping paper, avoid purchasing foil-sided, glittery, or metallic style papers. Many of these can’t be recycled due to the extra contaminants in the paper.
5. Reduce Your Holiday Food Waste
While most people focus on the waste created by Christmas packaging and decorations, they forget how much food gets thrown out over the holidays. At every holiday party and dinner, there seems to be an endless supply of food. As a host, this is exactly how you want a guest to feel. On the other hand, quite a bit of this ends up in the garbage (or compost) by the end of the holidays.
To help reduce the amount of waste during your holiday meals, try making meals tailored to the number of guests you expect. Kindly ask your guests to start with one serving and to come back for more if needed. There’s nothing worse than someone throwing out half of an unfinished plate, and this all adds to the increased waste.
This might sound simple, but smaller plates will also help reduce the amount of waste. People will be forced to take a smaller amount of food each time, making them fill the plate with an amount they're more likely to finish.
With any leftovers, get creative and include them in different recipes so they don’t go to waste. Soups and stews are some of the easiest and most common ways to get the most out of your holiday leftovers. And my mom can turn almost anything into a casserole. Also, depending on local organizations you may also be able to donate extra meals to homeless shelters or food banks.
6. Reusable Holiday Crackers
If your family uses Christmas crackers before your holiday meal, try making your own reusable ones this year. These one-time-use holiday traditions produce a lot of garbage and packaging that can be easily avoided. When we used to use disposable crackers, one of the kids would be responsible for collecting all the garbage from the crackers, easily filling up an entire bag. That's so much unnecessary waste.
For a green Christmas, make your own personalized holiday crackers at home. This gives you a chance to put your own gifts or surprises inside the crackers, adding a personal touch to the holiday tradition. If you want to go a step further, try making reusable crackers to reduce your holiday waste for years to come.
If this seems like too much work, you still have some green options. You’ll find lots of recycled or recyclable cracker options as well. Although these still have some toll on the environment, it’s much less severe than traditional glossy-sided Christmas crackers.
7. Use Christmas Light Substitutes
If you have an off-grid battery system, you might not have the luxury of powering Christmas lights every evening. Even if you’re connected to a power grid, Christmas lights represent one of the single greatest wastes of energy each year. Think about how much extra power people consume through December while heating their homes as well as powering hundreds of extra tiny lights.
In fact, American Christmas lights consume 6.6 billion kilowatt-hours each year. That’s more than the annual energy consumption of entire countries like El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. While energy-efficient LED lights will help reduce this burden, they won’t fully eliminate the problem.
To continue your green Christmas revolution, look at getting solar-powered Christmas lights to eliminate your reliance on traditional power sources. While this will definitely help lower your energy consumption, it still takes manufacturing, materials, and transport to acquire solar-powered lights. To make your Christmas as green as possible, try using substitutes for lights.
Some popular alternatives to Christmas lights have been cranberry or popcorn strings to decorate outdoor and indoor trees. You can also source seasonal materials from around your property to help decorate your home and yard without the use of lights.
8. Green Christmas Meals
Another easy way to have a green Christmas is by getting as much of your holiday food from local farmers as possible. The millions of turkeys, hams, potatoes, and other holiday-related foods produced each year have a massive impact on emissions. All of this food requires transportation and preservation to get it from a farm to a store, then to your cart, and finally to your table.
You can help reduce the emissions caused by this supply-chain by buying as much locally-sourced food as you can. Do some research online for farmers in your area that you can buy directly from. Depending on your state, there might even be farmers’ markets open where you can find most of your local food options.
Even though the fall harvest will be long gone by the time Christmas arrives, many farmers or local homesteaders will have a variety of preservatives you can use in your locally-sourced holiday meal. If you have space, try raising your own turkeys or chickens to supply your own homegrown holiday bird. It might be too late in the season to start raising them now, but you can always get planning for next Christmas!
9. Family Nature Activities
The winter months make it difficult to spend as much time outdoors as you want. This seems to be especially problematic around Christmas when everyone eats too much, drinks too much, and sits inside to watch holiday movies and shows.
As an alternative to the television screen, make an effort to get your family outside for some winter activities. This will reduce your power usage, and improve everyone’s health and mood. Get the whole family together for a hike or walk before dinner’s served. Make sure to include the grandparents and those that can’t even walk yet.
The fresh air will help sharpen appetites while giving people a chance to stretch and exercise during a commonly sedentary time of the year. Also, if you’re like me and want a quiet, empty house while you cook, it’s a great excuse to get everyone out of the house.
And while the family enjoys a nature walk, why not get them involved helping you forage for extra ingredients or decorations?
Start a Green Christmas Tradition
Everyone has numerous Christmas traditions that their family appreciates year-after-year, like our simple pioneer Christmas activities. But with humans’ ever-growing impact on the planet, it’s time to start thinking about how we can transform some of these ideas into new green Christmas traditions that limit their impact on our earth. This way, our descendants can continue to appreciate these traditions long after we’ve gone.
It may be difficult to change your entire Christmas all at once, but if you incorporate just a few of these green Christmas ideas into your plans each year, you’ll make a difference. After just a few years, your holidays will be as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible.
Do you have any specific green Christmas traditions that we haven’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments below.