How to Have a More Sustainable Christmas in 2019

By Clinton Colmenares, Director of News and Media Strategy, Furman University

It’s the season of giving. And giving. And … giving some more. Americans give each other so much between Thanksgiving and Christmas, they throw away 25 percent more waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

All that wrapping paper, packaging, stuff that breaks before the eggnog turns, and stuff you never wanted in the first place take a toll on the environment. It has the potential to take up space in landfills, emit carbon dioxide (if it breaks down) and foul up flora and fauna (if it doesn’t break down).

“There also are negative environmental, and sometimes social, impacts associated with the full life cycle of all these products, from the extraction of raw materials to manufacturing and production, to transportation and eventual use and disposal of the products,” says Wes Dripps, director of the David E. Shi Center for Sustainability at Furman University, a Sullivan Foundation partner school.

Related: How to throw a zero-waste sustainable Christmas party

“Each of these various stages in the product’s life cycle requires materials, energy and water. They all generate carbon emissions that contribute to climate change, and sometimes they employ questionable labor practices. All of this contributes to the unsustainability of holiday consumerism.”

Fortunately, the Shi Center for Sustainability has come up with a few alternatives for a more earth-friendly holiday. Here are 10 tips for creating a more sustainable Christmas in 2019.

1. Traveling? A round-trip flight from Greenville, South Carolina, to Grandma’s house in Houston, Texas, will create about .4 metric tons of carbon. For a few bucks, you can invest in green energy or in carbon capture through a third-party company like Terra Pass or Native Energy. This New York Times story has good tips for finding the right company. Know someone who travels a lot for work? Carbon offsets are the new black, especially if you’re committed to a sustainable Christmas celebration.

2. Go green and go team! With companies like UCapture, you can credit your offsets to your favorite college and keep score. The offsets are free; just add a browser extension, create an account and start racking up green points. The extension automatically credits your account without tracking your purchases.

3. For sustainable Christmas presents, skip the unrecyclable wrapping and tissue paper. Colorful cloth bags are easy to put together, and they’re reusable for generations to come. Just Google DIY bags.

this photo shows the preferred type of wrapping for sustainable Christmas gifts

For a more sustainable Christmas, skip the unrecyclable wrapping and tissue paper this year. (Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels)

4. Go digital. Plastic gift cards aren’t recyclable; make these easy gifts easier by emailing them. Sending e-cards is faster, easier and safer than licking envelopes. Digital advent calendars are fun, interactive alternatives, and you can still eat chocolate.

5. The yearly conundrum: fake tree or real? It depends. Current science leans toward real trees because of artificial trees’ non-recyclable and non-biodegradable materials, short life spans, foreign manufacturing and shipping of artificial trees. If you go for a real tree, shop at a local tree farm that uses sustainable growing practices. And choose a small tree with a root-ball, so it can be replanted, or repurpose the tree as compost, mulch or erosion control. If you do go artificial, plan to use it at least five years.

6. Going to a white elephant party? Don’t buy something new. Gifts are just as fun, and sometimes funnier, when they’re re-gifted from last year or come from the attic.

this photo shows an example of a sustainable Christmas tree

Real Christmas trees are more sustainable, but if you choose an artificial tree, plan to use it for at least five years.

7. Stocking stuffers have high potential to be, well, junk. For a more sustainable Christmas, stuff your stocking instead with something edible, or at least something useful.

8. LED lights save energy, and they’re super-bright. Plug them into a timer or a remote controlled outlet to save even more.

9. What do you do with the leftovers? First, store them in reusable containers! But after you’ve eaten all the sandwiches and turkey tetrazzini you can stomach, be sure to compost all those coffee grounds and fruit and veggie scraps. Avoid adding animal products to home compost bins. Consider it a gift to the earth. Don’t have a compost bin at home? Some cities distribute them for a nominal fee or have curbside compost pick up or independent companies that can provide the service.

10. Give less stuff and more time. Have an adventure. Create an experience. Give passes to state or national parks and get outside.

This story has been modified slightly from the original article on Furman University’s website.

Related: 15 zero-waste tips for beginners

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