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I love Christmas. I love the romance of the season—the lights, the snow, the time spent snuggled up under blankets drinking hot cocoa and watching holiday movies. I love the smell of pine trees and wassail. I love spending time with friends and family, eating lots of really unhealthy food, and participating in the same traditions we’ve held since we were kids. I love reflecting on the birth of Jesus Christ, and the miracle that happened that night in a stable outside of Bethlehem.
And as someone who believes that Jesus Christ is the creator of the world, I know that doing my part to help take care of the Earth is one way that I can thank the Savior for this beautiful gift. So much of Christmas is commercialized and feeds the “throw away” culture of modern society, but there are plenty of things we can do to help make this celebration of Christmas something that truly honors the Creator. As you’re making your plans for the holidays this year, here are a few eco-friendly Christmas traditions to add to your celebrations.
Eco-Friendly Christmas Decor
Put up a Real Christmas Tree
I’ve always been a huge fan of real Christmas trees. I know they’re messy and hard to keep properly watered, but nothing quite beats the smell of pine in your living room. So I was overjoyed to learn that real trees are actually more environmentally friendly than fake trees. Fake trees are made out of PVC, a petroleum product, and usually end up in a landfill at the end of their useful life. Real trees are grown on land that’s usually not suitable for other crops, provide habitat for wildlife, aid in carbon sequestration, and can be turned into mulch or erosion control measures when they’re done celebrating Christmas with your families. If you’re lucky enough to live near a Christmas tree farm, buying local trees is another way to help keep your tree traditions eco-friendly—and picking out a tree as a family is a great way to make beautiful Christmas memories.
Now, if you’re like me and you’re casting an askance glance at the fake tree standing in the corner of your living room, don’t go into panic mode and throw your perfectly good tree away. Reusing a fake tree for several years does cut down on its environmental impact, and fake trees can be recycled. Just make sure to remove all decorations and lights before you take it to your local recycling center.
Make Your Own Christmas Tree Ornaments
Instead of buying plastic Christmas tree ornaments, why not try your hand at making your own? If the thought of DIY ornaments brings to mind images of the crumbly cinnamon dough reindeer and glittery handprint ornaments that often come home from kindergarten, never fear: you can make your own ornaments that are adorable and classy.
Don’t Leave the Lights On All Night
Christmas lights are real purdy, but they, like your household lights, can be a big energy drain. This is especially true if you use the traditional incandescent Christmas lights, for which a single strand can add up to $6.90 to your electric bill in 2 months. LED lights are a lot more energy efficient (by 70-90%), but they do require a higher up-front investment. Since most people aren’t out and about late at night, you can cut down on energy usage and cost by turning off your lights after midnight. If you don’t want to worry about flipping the switch, you can use light timers to do the heavy lifting. Just make sure you get a timer that is safe for outdoor use, like one of these:
Eco-Friendly Christmas Gifts
Make your own gifts
Instead of supporting large corporations, why not try your hand at making your own? After all, nothing says love quite like a handmade gift and the time and effort that goes into them. There’s no shortage of things you can make at home—and bonus points if you do some fancy upcycling while you’re at it. Check out my Pinterest profile for lots of crafty ideas that make great gifts!
You can also check out thrift stores, consignment shops, and classified ads for gently used items that would still make nice gifts. One year, my sister gave me some books she found at the thrift store and you couldn’t even tell they were used. Sometimes, all something needs is a fresh coat of paint or some elbow grease to make it good as new.
Support Independent Artists
If you’re not quite up to making your own gifts, supporting small, local businesses or independent artists can still be a great way to have an eco-friendly Christmas. I put together a list of some of my favorites last week, so be sure to check that out!
Choose Good Chocolate
I love getting a personal stash of Christmas chocolate every year. (I know, I know, I’m five years old…) But depending on the manufacturer, chocolate can contain palm oil, the production of which devastates rainforests and orangutan habitat. Cocoa production also has a history of low wages and poor working conditions. If you’d like to enjoy chocolate without any guilt, look for chocolate with fair trade and/or Rainforest Alliance certification and no palm oil on the ingredients list. Your eco-friendly Christmas goals will thank you—and so will your taste buds.
Wrap It Up Right
I love wrapping presents. I also love unwrapping presents. But wrapping paper is the very epitome of a single-use product, and the piles of discarded paper at the end of Christmas morning can be absolutely mind-boggling. As you get ready to wrap up your packages with ribbons and bows, consider these options for eco-friendly Christmas gift wrapping.
- Instead of using paper, wrap large gifts in a flat bed sheet tied with a pretty bow. Some people even keep smaller pieces of fabric for wrapping smaller gifts. This giftwrap is reusable year after year, and boy, does it look pretty.
- Along the same lines, you can make your own fabric gift bags to reuse for years.
- Save intact pieces of wrapping paper for reuse next year.
- Cut down on curling ribbon. It may be pretty, but it’s definitely only good for one use.
- Reuse bows—even after they’ve lost their sticky backing, you can attach them to presents using a bit of tape.
- Repurpose newspaper, paper grocery bags, old sheet music, expired calendars, old maps, etc. to use as wrapping paper.
- Save boxes throughout the year to use for gifts that can’t just be wrapped as-is. Even a cereal box can be wrapped and pretty-fied, and you can recycle it afterwards.
- Save and reuse gift bags and tissue paper.
If you want to recycle regular wrapping paper, keep in mind that it can’t be recycled if it has glitter, foil, or a laminated/waxy finish. Personally, I love the look of “brown paper packages tied up with string,” so this year, I’ll be using regular brown craft paper. There are tons of fun ways to dress it up and still make it look pretty and festive. Check out my Gift Wrapping board on Pinterest for inspiration.
After Christmas is Over
Reuse or Recycle Your Gift Cards
Did you know that many gift cards can be reused? Instead of throwing away that gift card to your favorite chain store, you can top them up and use them again. If you have more than one, you can even use them like Dave Ramsey’s envelope system. If you’re like me and you hate carrying cash around, you can just dedicate individual gift cards to different budget categories and use them the same way. (Just make sure they’re not cards that charge monthly usage fees. Many “debit card”-type gift cards do this, but most retail company gift cards don’t. Always read the fine print.)
If you have gift cards that can’t be topped up, you may be able to recycle it. Most gift cards are made out of #3 PVC plastic, so they can’t be recycled at plants that only accepts #1 and #2 plastics. But if that’s the case, check out Earthworks Systems for recycling options.
And if you’re the one giving the gift card, opt for a paper or email version if it’s available.
Out with the Old, In with the New
If you get some nice new things for Christmas, make room for the newcomers by donating some of your older, gently used possessions to charity. You can take toys and games to children’s centers or homeless shelters. Old blankets can go to animal shelters. Furniture, appliances, construction materials, and light fixtures can be donated to Habitat for Humanity ReStores. Nicer clothes can also be taken to homeless shelters or community job training centers, and thrift stores are happy to take pretty much anything you want to donate as long as it’s still in good condition. Donating things you don’t need anymore not only keeps things out of the landfill, but it can also help someone get a job, make a home, or feel joy this Christmas season.
What are your favorite eco-friendly Christmas traditions?
I’d love to read your ideas in the comments below! Or tag your pictures on social media with #jks_sustainable_life.