Since it’s particularly challenging not to get swept up in the magic (read: consumerism) of it all this holiday season, here are my tips to make get through the holidays sustainably.
You don’t need to be the Grinch – actually, keeping sustainability in mind during the holidays may push you to be more creative (and shhh, it may also save you money!).
Probably the best way to approach the season is to not buy presents at all. Not a shocking suggestion, but definitely worth saying!
Often we buy out of a sense of obligation or reciprocity. You can avoid embarrassment by discussing it ahead of time and agreeing on a celebration or event in lieu of physical gifts.
Sometimes ditching the stuff can actually lead to something more special. Believe it or not – teachers don’t actually need another mug or soap set, but I’m sure they could really use a “thank you”!
If you are buying new items, make sure to look for things that are robust, and are made in a sustainable way wherever possible.
Don’t forget the environmental costs of shipping the item to you – buy local when it’s an option. Don’t get sucked in by google ads, and sales – if you didn’t already know you needed it, you probably don’t!
Also, try to skip the batteries – they create additional landfill throughout their lifetime and are more likely to break. And don’t forget to ditch the fancy, shiny paper and opt for reusable wrapping or old newspaper.
Be creative. There are so many ways to buy less stuff and still let people know how special they are to you. For example. you could have a ‘seconds’ holiday where you buy only preloved items to exchange or to recreate into new items. Buying such upcycled pieces is a great way to support small, local businesses, decrease the amount of waste heading into landfill all while saving money! It can be a fun challenge and lead to really unique gifts.
You could also trade consumables or experience gifts. Plan ahead and make extra during canning season to give as gifts, or find special treats that they will love. You could also pay for them to have a new experience, or share an experience together. It could be as simple as a dinner at a restaurant, seeing a local sports team (Go Titans!), taking an art or pottery class, or going to see a play. The options are only limited by your imagination (and internet search engine).
Consider making a donation instead. There are also many interesting ways you can do this. Some of the larger organizations have specific things you can donate to improve (i.e., local water systems) or will send a small related item as a symbol of the donation (such as a stuffed toy).
You could also consider local charities, such as Environmentally-focused non-profits, or organizations that provide support to people in need. Even the Fire Station collects new toys. You could also choose a crowdfunding or Indiegogo project together to support.
Finally – don’t act in silence. Tell others about the ways that you have greened your holidays – they may have new ideas or might even take some of yours. Be sensitive to others’ feelings and don’t lecture, but also don’t shy away from letting people know that we don’t have to succumb to the pressure of consumerism – but that we can still enjoy all that the holidays have to offer!
Stacey Danckert is co-director of Waterloo Region Environment Network (WREN).