Friday, 18 December 2015

Tips for a merry and eco-friendly holiday season

Environmental Elf on a Shelf

It’s tough to put a finger on what makes the holiday season so magical. It could be the white fluffy snow, the ugly sweater parties, the shopping, the gloriously decadent food or simply December’s coziness when days are short and hearts are warm. My favorite reason has to be the chance to decorate my home and fireplace with as many shiny ornaments and colorful objects as I can afford.

In the past, that meant huge plastic ornaments and those hilarious neon colored lights that only worked half the time and took up more energy than a microwave. It also meant a giant plastic tree only looked real if you squinted at it or took a picture from afar.

Those days are gone.

Although the enthusiasm is still there, my method has completely changed for the better. The thing is, eco-friendly decoration is actually a really easy concept! And if you’re one of those people who still owns a giant box of glitter-speckled, metallic-smelling baubles but wants to keep up their sustainability goals, then do I have information for you!

Buy a real tree

Buy a real tree

First things first, buy an actual tree of any size. Yes, a real tree. No, not a plastic one from overseas. It may seem counter-intuitive, but real trees are better in the long run because they can be mulched or composted and in the majority of cases they are grown in tree farms. To minimize your carbon footprint, be sure to buy local. The closer the tree farm to your home, the better. If the company doesn’t use pesticides on their trees, that would be ideal.

If you really don’t want to buy a big tree, buy a reusable wood-crafted tree like these ones on Etsy. You’ll be supporting the environment in the hippest fashion possible. You go Glen Coco!

You go Glen Coco
Image courtesy of Pintrest

Light up the tree with LEDs

LED Christmas Lights

Once you have a tree, it’s time to light it up. Replace the old incandescent lights with slightly more expensive but incredibly durable LEDs. Incandescent lights can get very hot and pose a fire hazard. LED lights are cool to the touch and are, consequently, child and klutz friendly. Because they use less electricity, they also end up being cheaper in the long run and their resilience means less waste is produced.

However, even with LED lights, remember to practice sustainability by reducing energy consumption to the bare minimum. Turn off the lights when you’re not in the room and unplug tree and window lights at night.

Decorate with organic and natural materials

Organic wrapping paper

Next, let your imagination go wild. Tie a couple pieces of cinnamon to string and presto, you have the perfect hanging decoration. Do the same with some dried apple slices. If you’re feeling especially creative, dip a couple pinecones in glitter and tie them to the tree with butcher’s string. Make snowflakes out of construction paper (here’s a really easy tutorial) or for the truly ambitious, bake gingerbread ornaments with edible glue!

It’s fine to buy decorations too, just make sure they’re recyclable and if possible, fairly traded. In Edmonton, your best option would be either the farmers’ market, where you’re bound to find local, hand-made ornaments, or a place like Ten Thousand Villages. If you already own ornaments, don’t think you need to throw them away—just don’t buy new ones either. Sustainability isn’t all or none.

Get creative with gifts

Homemade and useful gifts

Finally, we should talk about the finishing touch, the decorations under the tree—gifts.

The most sustainable thing to do would be to avoid giving gifts in the first place, but who could imagine going without presents? We don’t want to end up like Scrooge! Instead, don’t be ashamed to re-gift. Try to give away as many gently used items as possible—sweaters, dresses, shoes, accessories. Just make sure to wash them beforehand so your friends don’t end up smelling like you.
If you don’t have any items to pass-on, give gifts that come from the heart, like homemade cookies, cakes or DIY skin care. If you have to give a material gift, try to make it something that will last, like a good book or a sustainable bag from Matt & Natt. Give useful necessities like silverware, kitchen appliances or fun knit socks from a local store.

Just remember to wrap your gifts in what you have. Newspapers, old magazines, baking sheets, cloth, old scarves—everything is fair game. Have fun with it!

I hope this article has inspired you to put down the plastic and embrace the do-it-yourself movement, or at least, the buy-fair-trade-and-local movement. Either way, with a little extra effort and a lot of love, you too can have a very merry and eco-friendly holiday season!

Maja - Campus Sustainability Volunteer

Maja Staka is a Campus Sustainability Volunteer with the Office of Sustainability. She began blogging in high school and has been actively pursuing ways to continue writing ever since. Currently, she is both a graduate student at the University of Alberta and a part time French translator. She loves cats, carbs and... did we mention cats?


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