By: Ariana Palmieri
Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, but not always an eco-friendly time. After all, stores this time of year encourage massive consumerism, which takes a toll on the environment: Most products are made in environment-polluting factories and are made with non-recycled resources. Not to mention any imported items generate added pollution to the environment: The farther an item travels, the more fossil fuels are burned. That said, there are ways to make sure your carbon footprint doesn’t double in size this time of year. Here are some tips on how to make this Christmas your most eco-friendly one yet. And don’t worry, it won’t cost you a fortune either.
Buy a real tree (better yet an organic one), and then recycle it
You might be wondering which is better for the environment: A plastic tree or a real tree? While there are certainly pros and cons to owning both, buying a real tree is the better option. Why you ask? Because, plastic trees are made using plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and the toxic chemical dioxin is released during PVC production. Not to mention PVC also contains hormone-disrupting plastic softeners called phthalates. Yuck. Oh, and if that’s not enough to make you cringe, many plastic trees also contain lead. The worst part is, even if you wanted to recycle it, it couldn’t be recycled. Only certain plastics are recyclable and PVC is not one of them. Instead, it will just sit in a landfill. For all eternity.
While real trees aren’t flawless either, they certainly have more pros than cons. At least with real trees, they can be recycled or even replanted. While few Christmas trees rarely come from forests anymore, they are grown on plantations available throughout all 50 states and for each tree that's cut down, another is planted. That makes it virtually impossible to find a tree that isn’t locally grown (which is great for the environment – the closer the distance, the smaller the carbon footprint). The only cons with real trees is that they can be riddled with pests and pesticides. To avoid this, try buying an organic Christmas tree. Then, when the holiday season is over, have it turned into mulch or find an area to re-plant it. If you’re still adamantly against both options, you can always just buy an artsy Christmas tree made from recycled materials, or try planting a tree outside your home.
Make DIY eco-friendly ornaments + décor
I personally love making DIY anything, but Christmas décor? That's fun stuff. Instead of buying new ornaments and decorations this year, just DIY new ones, while re-using old decorations from last year. Some DIY ornaments that are fun to make are glitter-dipped pine cones (I only use biodegradable glitter), popcorn/cranberry strings, cinnamon dough ornaments, and light bulb snowmen. There are tons more ornaments to make using items found in nature too, such as twigs, rocks, berries, and sprigs of evergreen plants. You just have to get a little creative. You can also make eco-friendly wreaths using natural materials such as pinecones, twigs, loose pine branches, or even succulents. Don't forget to hang an eco-friendly stocking on your fireplace! If you like to upcycle items (I know I do) why not try painting some empty glass bottles using holiday colors (like red and green), or making paper ornaments using day old newspaper? The possibilities are endless.
Use DIY wrapping paper
It's safe to say paper is one of the biggest victims on Christmas: Have you seen how much wrapping paper is produced and wasted? Literally, when my family is done unwrapping things on Christmas, there is not one, but two heaping garbage bags filled with only wrapping paper. Thankfully, it gets recycled, but that isn't the case for all wrapping paper. Instead of buying new wrapping paper this year, try using some DIY hacks to lessen the burden on the environment. Instead, wrap your gifts with newspaper, old magazine pages, or even leaves lying around your garden. To make leaf wrapping paper, just glue or tape them together to create one big sheet, then use as you would actual wrapping paper. This technique works best with fresh leaves, as dried leaves would crumble and crack. However, try to avoid using too much glue or tape, as this is not biodegradable: Instead use ribbons to keep your gifts held together.You can also re-use any old gift bags you may have that were given to you in the past to put presents in. Here are some other eco-friendly gift wrapping ideas if none of the ones I listed speak to you. Remember: Not everything needs to be gift wrapped. You can simply put your gifts in plain cardboard boxes and decorate them any way you see fit (drawing nature-inspired pictures on the box is a good idea). That said, if you must use wrapping paper on Christmas, here are some fun ways to recycle wrapping paper besides throwing it in a recycling bin.
Reduce light usage
I'll admit I love a nicely lit house on Christmas Eve, but the environment sure doesn't. The amount of energy wasted on all those lights is enormous, not to mention wasteful if left on all day (which some places do, mind you). My advice? Use only LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights to decorate your home and tree this year. That, and keep them off during the day. The reason I suggest LED lighting is because LED holiday lights use up to 95% less energy than larger, traditional holiday bulbs. They also last up to 100,000 hours when used indoors. Also, with LED lights, if one burns out, the rest of the strand will still be lit. That said, even with LED lights in place, it's still a good idea to keep your indoor and outdoor lighting simple. Your house can still look attractive and beautiful without hundreds of lights. Personally, I'm a sucker for blue Christmas lights, but that's just me.
Make your own gifts or buy local, handmade gifts
I adore making homemade gifts for people. I feel like people appreciate them even more when they know you took the time out of your busy day to make them something. Plus, you can personalize a homemade gift any way you see fit without it costing an arm and a leg. DIY gifts don't have to be super fancy either: They can be as simple as making someone eye makeup and lipstick or as complex as making mittens out of an old sweater. Either way, you have the creative license to do as you please. Note that you can never go wrong with crafting DIY body scrubs, lotions, foot soaks, or bath balms (all available on Pinterest)! Just don't craft the ones that require any artificial dyes or fake fragrance (essential oils are better). For the men in your life, maybe try your hand at making all-natural cologne, rosemary pine beard balm, or citrus honey scotch ale soap.
If you're not in the mood to DIY anything, try to buy handmade items instead. Etsy is a great source to find handmade goodies anyone in your family would adore. The best part about Etsy is that any purchase you make from them goes to supporting a small business owner, instead of a corporation. Since most corporations are known for polluting the environment to produce their products, it's always better to support small businesses. As always, you should still read what ingredients are in the product you're looking to buy, even if it's on Etsy, to ensure it's an eco-friendly purchase. Here are some eco-friendly Etsy gifts worth looking at to get you started. Better yet, if you know any small businesses in your neighborhood that sell all-natural products, be sure to check in with them. Vintage shops are also great places to shop because they're inexpensive and can have fantastic, well-preserved items (like tea sets and classic records) someone in your family is bound to love.