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9 Tips for a Sustainable Christmas

michael caine as scrooge with the muppets

Sustainable, clutter-free, eco-friendly, whatever you call it, having a Green Christmas is something more and more people are becoming conscious of. But you don’t need an army of elves and reindeer to pull off this Christmas miracle. Here are nine tips for a Green, Sustainable Christmas!

1. Reusable Wrappings

About 50,000 trees are cut down to produce wrapping paper for Britain alone and most of that will end up in landfills, as very few kinds of wrapping paper are recyclable due to the plastic shine or designs. However, there are plenty of alternatives: Beeswax wrappers, reusable gift bags, and cloth bags can all be reused multiple times for many Christmases to come.

However, I would advise against going out of your way to buy new wrappings (especially if they’re made out of things like cotton, which takes a lot of resources to produce in the first place). Remember, the goal is to cut down on consumption, so if you have wrapping paper in storage, it’s better to use it than just buy brand-new items. Alternatively, make the wrapping part of the gift by using a blanket or scarf to wrap the other aspects of the gift.

2. Gift “Pre-owned”

Screenshot of ThredUp winter essential sale
(ThredUp)

Regifting has a bad rap, but if you have unused items that you know friends/family would enjoy, then there shouldn’t be any shame in gifting them.

Alternatively, looking on eBay and other sites can be an excellent way to find high-quality gifts at a lower price. ThredUp and other thrift stores (online or otherwise) often have high-quality designer clothing for much cheaper than the original price. You can even get items with the tags still attached!

3. “Clutter-free” Christmas Gifts

There’s also a growing trend of “clutter-free” gift-giving meant to cut down on consumerism and focus more on making memories or experiencing the world. These gifts tend to fall into five categories: experiences, memberships, classes, consumables, and time.

EXPERIENCES 

One of the best things you can gift someone is events and experiences they enjoy. Whether they’re live-music shows, performance art events, Escape Rooms, Bowling passes, Stardome/planetarium, chances are that everyone has some kind of event they’d love to see.

MEMBERSHIPS

These are year-round gifts that keep giving. Memberships to art or science museums, trampoline parks, theme parks, rock climbing, music or media streaming services, magazine subscriptions, or entertainment books can provide year-round entertainment and enrichment to the lives of those you love.

CLASSES

If your gift recipient is looking to learn new skills, then consider offering to pay for a class: classes for cooking, dance, sports, swimming, music, coding, painting/art, home brewing, scuba diving, or languages are all incredible and rewarding options.

CONSUMABLES

If you are looking to gift something more physical, giving gifts of fair-trade fruit baskets, flowers, chocolates, coffee, alcohol, meats, cheeses, desserts, or local foods are all excellent options, especially as gifts meant for groups of people.

TIME

If your love language is acts of service or if you’re looking for a more cost-friendly option, another option could be giving gifts of services such as babysitting, house cleaning, car washing, massages, manicures/pedicures, mowing the lawns/gardening, oil changes, or homemade baking/cooking.

ALTERNATIVES

I generally advise against gift cards as Americans have about $21 billion in unused gift cards and the companies that frequently offer those gift cards are larger corporations that do not need the money. But if it’s for something you know they will use, like getting a gamer a STEAM gift card, then that’s a better idea.

You can also donate to a charity of their choice (or of your choice, if you don’t like the relative).

4. LED lights

Looking for the best way to light up the Christmas tree? LED is the way to go! It’s not only more energy-efficient and better for the environment but they’re safer, longer lasting, and more cost-effective, in addition to being bright. Even better for those who want low-energy decor, some are putting up permanent LED lights that are easily customizable for every holiday!

5. Rent your Christmas Tree

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal carry a large Christmas Tree in When Harry Met Sally.
(Columbia Pictures)

If you love the smell of Christmas trees but worry about the ecological cost of cutting down millions of trees, look no further than “rent-a-tree” services which allow you to rent a potted pine for the duration of the holiday.

These services are so popular in California that some have already rented out this year’s stock of trees and are taking reservations for 2023.

If you prefer artificial, they have rental services for those as well. Or you could always get a little rosemary bush and have some fresh rosemary with which to season the feast and then plant it once the holiday has passed.

6. Fake Fire

I know everyone loves having a Yule log or Christmas bonfire, but in addition to causing unnecessary pollution, natural gas and firewood are likely to be a little more costly this year, so consider settling for a video of a yule log. There are ones with Christmas music, ones with cute puppies or kittens, or ones with a bit more of a comedic twist (like the one embedded above).

7. Green Feast

An older man eyes a delicious looking turkey sitting on a kitchen table in a scene from A Christmas Story.
(Warner Bros.)

I already mentioned this in our Sustainable Thanksgiving article, but poultry (chicken, turkey, goose, or duck) or fish are generally more eco-friendly than red meat or pork due to needing fewer resources per calorie. Vegan and vegetarian options are also much more sustainable in terms of water and energy needed to produce the food, though I still believe buying local, in-season food is the best way to go. Also, make sure to spread the love and offer guests leftovers if you have them.

8. Travel

kristoff rides a reindeer in frozen 2
(Disney)

Unfortunately, most of us won’t be able to use flying reindeer to visit family, but there are still plenty of eco-friendly travel methods. Lack of paid time off can be a major obstacle to slow travel, but if you can make the trip by train, or bus, or even boat, that is always better than by plane. Traveling by car can be a little tricky efficiency-wise, as some estimates say that four people traveling by car is more efficient than flying by plane, but between driving solo or flying solo, flying is the better option.

9. Miscellaneous

A bunch of accumulated tips that didn’t fit in elsewhere:

(featured image: Disney/Jim Henson Company)

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