The holiday season is a time of joy, happiness and celebrating with loved ones. Unfortunately, it’s also a period of rampant plastic waste and environmental damage. Here’s how you can get in on the holiday spirit without sacrificing sustainability.

As we progress through December, many people around the world are preparing for Christmas and end of year festivities. It’s a special time of the year, where we celebrate and show appreciation for our loved ones. But it can also include excessive packaging, plastic and negative environmental outcomes. With sustainability in mind, we’ve put together some useful tips to ensure you can enjoy this special time of the year.

Here’s how you can minimise your impact on the planet these holidays, whilst maximising the spirit of the season.

Plastic Christmas trees and decorations contain harmful chemicals, including polyvinyl chloride, phthalates and flame-retardant materials.

Opt For A Greener Christmas Tree

There’s almost nothing as festively symbolic as the Christmas tree. A true staple of the silly season, this icon features in many a front living room, often loaded with ample decorations proudly on display. Most of the time, this classic is made out of plastic, along with all the baubles, stars and trinkets that adorn it. Many point to it’s re-usable nature as the reasoning behind choosing a plastic tree over a natural one. Yet experts have noted that in order to compensate for the emissions used to create that plastic tree, you’d have to keep it for up to 15 years. There is also the issue that many plastic Christmas trees and decorations contain harmful chemicals, including polyvinyl chloride, phthalates, breathable microplastics and toxic flame-retardant materials.

Before you head off to pick up a fresh tree or throw away your old plastic decorations, know that you have several sustainable options available. First, you could continue using your existing set, ensuring that they are properly stored to ensure a long, reusable lifespan. You could also prepare for a switch to a more organic (and healthier) option, by purchasing a living, potted plant – one that’s going to last you more than a single season. Embrace your creativity by exploring flora beyond the traditional pine tree and give your space a signature look with an interesting choice, such as a Ficus, Leyland cypress or even Rosemary. And for those looking to reduce their environmental impact even further, there is also the option of renting a tree – especially alluring if you are low on space and don’t feel compelled to buy something new.

Choose Natural Decorations

When it comes to Christmas decorations, the world is your superstore. Avoid the tired plastic ornaments and get inspired with some frills and fixtures that are right outside your door. Depending on your region, there will be plenty of natural options to choose from, including ferns, pinecones, dried rosemary, herbs, pressed flowers and much more. Spice up a room with fruit rinds, cinnamon sticks, nuts and berries. Or get creative with twigs, twine and tree-bark stars. Get the young ones involved and see what you can come up with! Not only are these decorations compostable, they are uniquely special and the whole family will have fun with this mini-maker session each year.

Whatever you go for, make sure you are being mindful to not remove these items in a destructive manner. Where possible, salvage what has been naturally discarded, or ask a friendly neighbour if they wouldn’t mind sharing some of natures decorative bounty with you.

Get creative with natural, homemade decorations.

How To Avoid Getting More (Plastic) Gifts

You can be as eco-conscious as possible, yet your friends and family may still gift you with a small horde of plastic gifts come Xmas time. Others may give presents that require batteries or are otherwise disposable in nature. But how do you let them know you (or your children) aren’t keen on these types of gifts?

Just saying ‘no’ may come across as rude and could hurt their feelings, but you likewise don’t want to have to force a smile when receiving something that doesn’t fit in with your sustainable or minimalistic lifestyle. Instead, remember what the gift is supposed to represent – a symbol of appreciation and love for you. With that in mind, and keeping true to the purpose of the gift itself, let them know ahead of time that you’d prefer something more sustainable. Perhaps give them a list of responsible vendors and stores you would like to support through the purchase of a gift. Another option is to go the minimalist route, and suggest a gift that is more experiential in nature. Be it a trip away, a home cooked meal or donations to a charity in your name. These are gifts that you can both feel good about, which still honour the underlying meaning and may also help someone in need.

Choose Alternative Wrapping Materials

Part of the joy of receiving a gift is in the presentation. The beautiful wrapping paper, ribbon and tags can add a special touch, but also contribute to waste. Fortunately, there are plenty of greener choices that still look awesome and might even add more visual flair than your average, store bought wrapping paper.

Upcycled paper, including a patchwork of used brown paper bags, mailers or interesting documents (such as newspapers) can add some serious detail to any gift. Another option is re-usable wrapping cloth, available in a variety of colours and patterns that can be enjoyed for any occasion. These function as a neat 2-in-1 gift, saving the receiver from having to buy wrapping paper themselves! Finishing touches can include some of the natural decorations you sourced earlier, including pine-bark in place of a tag and a small fern, affixed with twine.

Remember To Start Small

See how you go this year and remember that even choosing to do just one of these options is better than nothing. To make things easier, start the conversations around sustainability early (and slowly), which will definitely help get others on board. Get creative and see what other eco-friendly moves you can make.

Most importantly, have a happy and safe holidays. ■

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