Modern furoshiki, or Japanese wrapping cloth.

Modern furoshiki, or Japanese wrapping cloth, is a zero waste and affordable alternative to gift wrap. (Photo: Ekoshiki)

Although they’re full of merriment, the holidays can also be a time of unnecessary excess. This time of year should be about family, friends, food and fun — not stuff!

Between late November and early January, household waste increases by more than 25 per cent, from extra food waste (up to 40 per cent of festive food is wasted), packaging and trashed old items replaced with newer versions received as gifts. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the result is more than one million more tons per week in landfills across North America.

Research from the Center for Global Development estimates that holiday lights use 6.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year. Increased travel boosts greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

The holiday frenzy can also cause stress and anxiety. This is where mindfulness comes in!

Here are some tips to maximize your holiday cheer while minimizing environmental impact.

Gifts

  • Shop local Reduce your footprint and support the local economy.
  • Get creative Instead of buying things, give experiences — concerts tickets, screenings, spa services, restaurant certificates, gym memberships, even cleaning services!
  • Buy quality If you’re going to buy, choose what will last. Avoid non-recyclable plastics. Look for ethically made products. Don’t get sucked into “holiday gift packs” they are mostly wrapping and made up of stuff that didn’t sell.
  • Do it yourself Take advantage of your time off! Knit, draw, bake — put your love into homemade gifts.
  • Donate Support causes your loved ones care about most, in their honour. Consider animal shelters, environmental organizations (like ours!), wildlife protection agencies or social justice groups.
  • Don’t rush Choosing rush delivery often means that cargo planes and trucks go out half-empty. Shop in person or online ahead of time to give shipping more time and reduce emissions.
  • Recycle: Regifting is OK — just give your regifted item to someone who’ll appreciate it. If you get new tech gadgets, donate or properly recycle your old items.

Wrap  

  • Erase single-use wrapping and unleash creativity! Check out Furoshiki cloth wrapping techniques. Sew your own reusable cloth bags. Wrap with newspapers, maps or posters, and decorate with markers. Avoid plastic ribbons, bows and glitter.

Cards

  • Choose e-cards to save paper and postage. Personalize them by adding pictures, music and graphics. If you love writing cards, use homemade or 100 per cent recycled paper.

Food

  • Ditch tinfoil and plastic. Opt for reusable beeswax food wrap, stainless steel or glassware for leftovers.
  • Choose local, seasonal vegetables. Hit up farmers markets, organic stores, co-ops and your own garden.
  • If you can, eliminate meat. If you’re eating meat, eat less and buy what’s local and ethically raised.
  • Avoid disposables. If you don’t have enough reusable items, have guests bring their own!
  • Turn down the heat before people arrive. You’ll save energy and your guests’ extra body heat will warm up the room.

Trees

  • Opt for potted trees that can be replanted outside. If you want a cut tree, buy from a local, organic tree farm. Contact your municipality about proper recycling or composting programs.
  • Avoid fake trees. While they can be reused, studies show you would have to use one for 20 years before it’s “greener” than a real tree.

Lights

  • Choose LED lights. They have a longer life span and use less energy, only about four watts per strand. Regular lights use about 34 watts per strand.
  • Properly recycle old incandescent lights.
  • Use a timer so your lights are only on when needed. Turn them off whenever possible!

Travel

  • If family lives across distances, reduce travel miles by choosing a central location to come together.
  • If you must travel by air, buy carbon offsets.

The best of the holidays comes from the wealth we create through relationships — to ourselves, to each other and to nature!

Happy holidays!

Queen of Green image that reads: David Suzuki's Queen of Green gives you tips and recipes to live sustainably.