Christmas is a magical time of year, calling for celebration, joy and relaxation. Unfortunately, it’s also notorious for its unnecessary over consumption, waste and harm to the environment.
While it’s really easy to get caught up in the excitement and busyness of the Christmas period, it’s important to be conscious of its long lasting environmental impact.
We’ve shared our top tips for having a plastic-free, sustainable Christmas so you can stay environmentally conscious during this festive season at ease.
Every year in the lead up to Christmas, retail stores across the country run out of stock of artificial Christmas trees. The trend doesn’t make much sense when you consider most families (if they kept their tree from last year) should already have one. These trees cost an enormous amount of energy to produce and create a lot of waste and plastic!
Having a Christmas tree doesn’t need to be harmful to the environment; we only need to be smarter around our choice of tree.
If you’ve already got one, keep using it and make it last as long as possible. When it reaches its end of life, avoid sending it to the landfill by donating it to your local second-hand store or re-purposing it. You can use its branches to create wreaths or garlands – giving it a whole new life.
For those who don’t have a tree yet or are on the market for a one – consider using an already planted tree or growing your own outside. It’s not only great for the planet, but it’s a cost-effective option which will last for years to come.
Alternatively, if you’d prefer an artificial tree, try a pre-loved Christmas one. If you keep an eye out, you can usually spot one at your local second-hand store or try TradeMe and Facebook’s Marketplace.
Decorations and lighting
Many of us enjoy Christmas for its festive decorations and sparkling lights. Unfortunately, most Christmas decorations contain plastic including shiny tinsel, baubles or anything covered in glitter.
Try to reuse decorations as much as you can or make your own from natural or recycled materials. Paper decorations can make great additions to your tree, especially if you have the patience to fold origami. We’re a big fan of these origami sea creatures, but you can adopt your own theme depending on your interests.
Another option is to create edible ornaments. A simple search will give you plenty of options and why not have decorations that not only look splendid but also taste superb.
Minimise lighting. If you’re going to have Christmas lights, use either solar-powered or LED lights. Both use less energy and are more cost effective.
Adopt soy or beeswax candles rather than the often cheap, paraffin variety. Paraffin is a derivative of petroleum and releases toxic fumes when it’s burned – these are poisonous to our earth as well as our health.
A massive part of gifting during Christmas (and any other time of year) is the colourful paper that accompanies a gift. As much as the suspense of watching someone unwrap a gift is exhilarating, this paper often can’t be recycled and ends up in the landfill.
Wrapping paper often contains plastic or is dyed and laminated, making it unable to be recycled. In other cases, it might have cellotape sticking to it or is too thin to hold any suitable fibres for recycling.
The best option for eco-friendly wrapping is to recycle or reuse old materials. Newspapers, old maps, discarded book pages, tea towels, or recycled fabric bags are great alternatives to wrapping paper.
But if you do decide to use wrapping paper, try to use one that avoids plastic. Brown paper, although simple, can be decorated with stamps.
Instead of bows and ribbons, use natural twine or string for an extra touch.
When it comes to giving gifts, some of us can go a tad overboard. While it’s important to show our family and friends our appreciation, we’re going about gift giving the complete wrong way for our environment.
Children’s toys are some of the worst culprits. It’s estimated that 90 percent of toys on the market are plastic – and some of these can end up in our landfill and oceans. A poll by the British Heart Foundation also found that more than a quarter of parents admit disposing of toys that were in perfect working order – this is an enormous unnecessary waste.
If you’re purchasing for a child, make sure you buy quality toys that will last. There’s no point gifting them toys if they already have plenty or you’re not sure they’ll like it. Find toys that are sustainable or use environmentally friendly materials.
For adults, often gifts that are home-made are more meaningful than anything you can purchase at a store. Using recycled materials, you can make your own beeswax wraps, jewellery, food in a jar gifts or even art – the possibilities can be endless!
We hope our tips provided you with some inspiration for adopting a plastic-free, sustainable Christmas. If you’ve got other interesting ideas, we’re always keen to hear your thoughts on our Plastic Free New Zealand discussion page.
May this Christmas be more than just a season, but a way of life.
Contributor: Lesl van der Voorn