Having a holly, jolly, sustainable Christmas

Making the holidays green

- December 15, 2011

Greening the season
Greening the season

Christmas is right around the corner, and with the holiday season comes the inevitable pile of wrapping paper, plastic overpackaging and that unwanted gift from Uncle Bob that you'll no doubt be shoving into garbage bags come Boxing Day.

Despite the notoriously bad "wrap" Christmas gets from a environmental sustainability standpoint, there are a plethora of ways to ensure your Christmas is more green than red without being a complete Scrooge or a big spender.

The key to keeping your environmental impact low this holiday season isn't just buying less, it's buying smart.

"I think Christmas makes people feel obliged to overspend and overpurchase," offers up Andrew Rhodenizer, a former Dalhousie and current NSCAD student. "They feel the need to buy a ton of stuff for people, regardless of what it is. Instead of buying or making someone one great gift they'll enjoy, people buy four or five tiny, underwhelming and over-packaged trinkets that will inevitably get tossed out."

Mr. Rhodenizer also recommends making, rather than buying gifts. "I usually don't buy people gifts," he admits. "I much prefer to make someone a little painting or photograph, it's more personal and certainly less wasteful."

Buying local

However, if you lack the talent or gumption to belt out a song for Aunt Lenore or paint something for Dad, there are still great gift options that won't leave a big carbon footprint.

Buying locally-made products not only opens you up to the wonderful Halifax artisan scene, but it can also greatly offset the amount of waste that accompanies your gift. Buying close to home significantly reduces the amount of packing and shipping that a product has to go through before it reaches your lucky recipient: you're cutting out the carbon emissions that would be used to transport it, and because it doesn't have to be wrapped for safety, a lot less packaging is squandered.

Halifax has an infinite supply of great, handmade local gifts, whether it's an eco-friendly travel mug from one of Halifax's local caffeine emporiums for your java-crazed cousin; a refillable growler of beer from local microbreweries Propeller or Garrison for your thirsty roommate; some honey, cider and flowers from the Seaport Market for that special someone; or just a sweet and poignant card from Inkwell's Modern Handmade Boutique and Letterpress Studio.

And while it may be a touchy subject for some, there's always the age-old practice of re-gifting. How about giving a used book or record to someone who might get more use out of it?

"Unlike Martha Stewart, I'm a huge advocate of re-gifting," says Rochelle Owen, director of sustainability at Dalhousie.

And if you don't quite feel comfortable giving your old stuff away as a gift, you might want to check out John W. Doull Books or Backpages for some slightly more legitimate used literature, and Taz or Obsolete Records for those radical, refurbished albums.

"It's also a good idea to agree on set price limits on your presents, or do a Secret Santa exchange instead of everyone buying for everyone," notes Ms. Owen. "It's also a great time to give to charity in someone's name or buy a chicken or some school books through Oxfam for families."

Decking the halls

If you're worried about how gussy up your gifts and home for the holidays while avoiding the waste, then it's best to refrain from store-bought decorations and wrapping and get a little creative. Instead of buying Christmas-themed wrapping paper with the sole purpose of getting thrown away, why not put the gift in a reusable gift bag or, even better, wrap it in some topical newsprint or some colourful fabric scraps?

As for decorations, instead of store-bought, why not make something useful out of your old coursework?

"I turned my old LSAT practice tests and course notes into paper snowflakes," says Tara Paczkowski, a Religious Studies student at Dalhousie. "They're easy, they look pretty and it gets my frustrations out. They also make great kindling if you have a woodstove.”

"I also tend to buy a lot of candles instead of lights, because those lights are really made to last one or two Christmases,” she continues. “Also, there are tons of guides to wreathmaking online, or really, just get creative with a glue-gun and some paint... I mean, whatever happened to popcorn garland?"

Other creative festive fashions could include anything from baking and painting dough or folding origami ornaments for your tree to paper trees and homemade gingerbread houses.

If you don't feel the undying urge to glue some googly eyes on a pipecleaner raindeer or string pinecones and holly berries together, you can still decorate smart by buying energy efficient LED Christmas lights, refraining from leaving your lovely Christmas tree on during the day or when no one's in the room, or simple things like using candles at night instead of the house lights.

Whatever your style or budget, you can ensure a environmentally friendly Christmas that won't break the bank if you just think outside the gift-wrapped box a little.


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