How to plan for an eco-friendly holiday season

Dec 6, 2019

How to plan for an eco-friendly holiday season

Photo: @hamann, Unsplash

 ‘Tis the season to be frugal

Fa la la la la, la la la la

Are you thinking about planning an eco-friendly holiday season this year?

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how you can shop consciously this holiday season and still be able to surprise your loved ones with gifts they’ll adore.

But being green/er doesn’t stop at gift giving.

Even though I’ve been learning how to live a more sustainable lifestyle for decades now, I never stop learning.

Each step we take toward living more sustainably will help create the world we want to live in.

Each step will help us survive on this planet.


The shocking news 

Did you know that 25% more waste is produced between Thanksgiving and the New Year in the United States? 

To make that seem more real: If every family would wrap 3 presents in reusable materials, we’d save enough paper waste to cover 45,000 football fields!

I don’t want to bombard you with more stats though, but just think of how much more energy we use to light our Christmas trees and decorations too.

After a year of hearing intense reports about climate change and plastic in oceans every day in the media, it’s 100% clear that we can’t produce any more waste or energy than we already are.

Instead, we have to drastically reduce our consumption.

And not just over the holidays, but all year round.

Are you ready for an eco-friendly holiday season?


First, let’s talk about Christmas trees

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a decorated tree in your house, am I right?

It’s a German holiday tradition that most every Christian on this planet participates in. Personally, I wouldn’t ‘feel’ Christmas without one.

But, I must admit, I’m now having a hard time with this process because I now question everything.

Should I or should I not put up a tree this year? We’re hosting this year. We have a 12 year old daughter. We love this tradition. And the smell. Yadi, yadi, ya…

Clearly, I do NOT want to give up this tradition while my daughter’s living in the house and probably not after she has a family of her own. I just can’t imagine Christmas without one. It just wouldn’t be the same. And I know I’m not alone.

As far as I know, there are fours ways to source Christmas trees listed in the order of their ecological impact. Number 1 being the most eco-friendly:

  1. Small trees with the root ball you can plant after use.
  2. Tree farm where you chop them down yourself.
  3. Already cut trees at various stands in front of your local stores.
  4. Plastic trees you can buy at retail stores or online.

1. Small trees to replant:

I love these small beauties because they’re cruelty-free and the most sustainable choice. However, this isn’t the easiest option, especially if you don’t have a place to replant them.

The coolest way is to either buy or even grow one and once it reaches a certain size, bring it in, decorate it and then plant it back. Kudos to anyone who does this!

If you’re thinking of going this route and you don’t have room in your garden to replant them, ask the seller if they take them back. You can ask to plant it in a neighbor’s or friend’s garden. Or in your local forest or city park. There are ways, it just takes a little more organization.

2. Tree farm:

Do you have a local organic tree farm that grows Christmas trees for this one reason?In these farms, they offer small to large trees you can cut yourself. A tree gets chopped down and in the spring, another gets planted in its place. This is what my family has been doing for a long time and there are always scraps of the classic Nordmann fir branches lying on the ground which I’m allowed to take and use for my advent candle decoration.

If you go this route, just remember to keep the tree bundled up outside for at least one day before bringing it into your warm house. And always put sugar in the water and keep it hydrated the entire time.

We spend around 60-70 EUR for a 3 meter Nordmann fir from our neighboring forest.

3. Already cut trees:

These remind me of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree or parrots in cages who pick their feathers because they don’t get enough attention. I feel bad for these trees because they’ve been chopped down who knows when and who knows from where and often end up losing their needles right after you put them into your warm house.

Also, like cut flowers, not all find good homes and that to me is such a waste and makes me so sad.

They’re the cheaper alternative to tree farms  and they’re easy to get making it the most common choice.

The danger is that you’ll probably never really know where these trees came from. Did the seller sneak into a forest or tree farm and illegally chop them all down over the course of a few evenings? Probably not, but once I saw this shocking news about cone poaching, I figured anything’s possible.

Same with everything, if you’re on a sustainable journey and want to make this world a better place, find out how you stuff was made and sourced and only buy what you feel is right. Vote with your wallet.

4. Plastic trees:

I know these have a purpose and many people like them, but I am just not one of them. Never have been, never will be.

First of all, plastic.

These trees are large and just not biodegradable so they end up in overflowing landfills. Sure, they last for several years, maybe even 2 decades, but then what?

If you already have one, go ahead and use it. But please  for the love of all things beautiful on this planet  never buy one new. Thank you for listening.

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If you use the 5 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot and Refuse, you will enjoy an eco-friendly holiday season.

Using the 5 Rs: Reduce | Reuse | Recycle | Rot | Refuse

How can you easily plan an eco-friendly holiday season and still have a jolly ‘ole time?

By implementing the 5Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot, Refuse.

Below are just suggestions to inspire your creativity.

Please be kind to yourself if you can’t do everything though. This is not a competition nor a blaming or shaming match.

Each step counts.

Click or tap on each category below to learn more about each of them and if you have any feedback or anything else to add, please comment below because like I wrote above, I never stop learning.

If there’s one thing we need to realize is that we don’t need any more stuff.

Besides, material things do not make us happy. Our excessive consumerism over the past hundred or so years has only added to our sorrow and ungratefulness.

What does make us happy? Relationships, memories, experiences, LOVE. So, when you want to make your loved ones happy this year, think of how you can make enhance your relationships, make memories, share experiences and spread love instead of gifting stuff.

Here are a few more tips to plan an eco-friendly holiday season:

  • Reduce the amount of material-based gifts. In my last article on how to shop consciously this holiday season I provided links to and ideas about non-material gifts.
  • Do you REALLY need more holiday decorations or ugly Christmas sweaters? Probably not. If you can, use what you have and remember, less is more.
  • Reduce the use of non-LED and non-rechargeable batteries. 
  • Do you have to wrap up your whole house with lights this year? There’s nothing stopping you from saying: ‘OK I’m taking a break.’ and be done with it. You’ll be surprised as to how much time you can spend relaxing on the couch cuddling with your family instead.
  • Instead of cards, donate to the charity of your choice and inform your family and friends either in person when you visit them or on the phone or digitally.
  • To reduce digital volume and energy, you can design a web page with your family holiday greetings, image and charity (“in lieu of cards” style) and send the link via email or text with no image attachments. Great Aunt Betty may snicker, but once you explain it to her on the phone, I’m sure she’ll understand.

Here are a few creative ways to wrap your gifts this year that don’t use environmentally-unfriendly decorated wrapping paper. And some ideas for others ways to reuse holiday items.

  • Old clothes, scarves, blankets, sheets, fabric scraps, etc. Learn how to wrap material squares from FabRap
  • New dish towels or head bandanas which adds an ‘extra’ gift
  • Newspaper and use strips of old clothes instead of tape to bind. Remember, newspaper bleeds…
  • Any packaging you receive from others or from your online purchases (tissue paper, gift bags, cardboard boxes). Additional tip: IF you’re getting too much packaging, please contact the manufacturer and kindly ask them to reduce their packaging. The more requests they get, the more they’ll be willing to change.
  • Wallpaper scraps, old maps, sheet music, paper bags, tissue paper, etc.
  • Old Christmas/greetings cards for name tags
  • Gift shop at thrift stores or garage sales instead of buying new
  • Organize a community gift swap event: What’s someone’s trash is another person’s treasure
  • Reuse tinsel. Tinsel is pretty wasteful so I’ll never buy it again. I don’t remember when I last bought tinsel. Maybe 10 years ago? I’ve been using the same tinsel over and over again, but I have one rule, that I put it on the tree and take it off because 1) my husband bunches and 2) he would just throw it back in the bags. I certainly can’t have that! I place each piece carefully on the branches and take each one off and bind them together so that I can reuse them. Waste of my time? Not really. It’s like weeding and is very meditative.
Recycling isn’t an option anymore, it’s an obligation.

Here are a few tips on how to recycle over the holidays:

  • If you have a live Christmas tree without the roots, you can shred it to mulch your garden. Don’t forget to breathe in through your nose and say ‘ahhhhhhh’.
  • Some gift wrap is recyclable, but most isn’t, so I would still strongly suggest to never buy it again and instead use up what you have and look at the gift wrapping tips above.
  • Many times, traveling causes a lot of waste because there are no separate containers for each piece of trash group in hotels. You can choose to stay in green hotels who do recycle, but unfortunately, most don’t. And sometimes, you don’t know how your family recycles. When I visit someone, that’s one of the first things I ask to make sure I’m ‘doing it correctly’. If your traveling for a longer period of time, you can bring a couple of bags that you can reuse over and over again and separate your trash that way. Fun? Not really. But, you know why you’re doing it so thank you for being considerate.
  • Christmas lights and batteries have to be properly disposed. Please contact your local authorities to find out how.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 30% of food is wasted globally which contributes to 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

“If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of impact on global warming.” Source: Washington Post

 These tips will help you reduce your own food waste impact over the holidays and beyond:

  • Buy and cook what you need when you need it. You can have leftovers but if you find eating leftovers for the 4th day in a row boring, then don’t make so much. Your fridge also never needs to be stuffed. If you plan your meals, this is totally manageable.
  • Fill your plate with your head, not your stomach, especially at all you can eat buffets. Take smaller portions and walk one more time to the buffet rather than piling it all on in one sitting. Take what you can eat and leave the rest.
  • Reduce your meat consumption. Not only is that more healthier for your body and the environment due to less methane being emitted from cow farts, you’re reducing bone and fat waste.
  • Speaking of fat waste. How gross was it when I was a child to have to pour all that fat into a can so that I can scrape it out once it hardened. IF you have pan fat for some reason and can reuse it to make another meal, then please do that. I’m sorry, I have to stop thinking about this or else I’m gonna puke. 
  • Support local restaurants and initiatives that are active in reducing food waste by giving back to the poorer communities.
  • Learn about your vegetables. Did you know that there are a gazillion healthy recipes for avocado pits? That the broccoli stem is so very yummy either raw or cooked? Or that you have a bunch of healthy benefits from all parts of your dandelions growing in the spring and summer? Even the roots? There’s usually uses for all parts of vegetables.
  • Please be careful with giving your dog your scraps though as seasoned food is not healthy for them. Grains are also not good for them on a regular basis. Feeding ducks bread is also not healthy for them. There are also toxins in certain foods that they shouldn’t be either either.
  • Compost. We never throw out food in our household. We don’t put food scraps on our compost piles in the garden either because we live out in the country and don’t want to invite rats. The only thing we put in our compost from our kitchen is used coffee powder and the biodegradable filters because this is like icing on the cake for compost. Instead, our food waste, what little we have, goes in our organic trash which has its own can and gets picked up with our garden waste and sent to a huge composting facility.
This must be the toughest thing for humans. It’s against our nature to refuse a gift from anyone. How do you refuse to receive a gift? How do you get out of your own mindset of wanting gifts?

Here are a few tips:

  • Express your no-gift wish compassionately to your loved ones early on. Many families have a no-gift policy for the adults and only concentrate on the children in the family which is great.
  • If you have a family that insists on gifting, you can say that you’d prefer to go to a concert or a movie with them or be invited to dinner instead of receiving a material gift. OR a bottle of wine would also be fine.
  • You can offer to only exchange handmade items, but if you’re like me or my husband, this has got to be the most stressful thing. Except this year, I finally learned how to make some of my own products which would make really nice gifts!
  • If you’re unable to refuse gifts for whatever reason, try to set up a gift list for you or your children of your favorite eco store. If your store doesn’t offer this service online, make your own gift list here.
  • Here’s a really good year-round resource for appropriate baby shower gifts and how much to spend. These gifts don’t always have to be physical items. I love the idea of gifting the parents-to-be a date night incl. babysitting service.

If your loved ones know you well and understand the reasons why you don’t want more stuff and especially no stuff that destroys our environment, they will respect you. It may take a few years, but eventually, they will. I’m speaking from experience. 🙂

What’s your plan for an eco-friendly holiday season? Please comment below and let’s talk!
Peace and love,
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