Making the Silly Season Green

The holiday season can take a heavy toll on the environment and the earth’s resources. We are all so busy buying presents, eating, drinking and being merry that we forget about some very basic considerations. Being mindful about your consumption habits and shopping this month can really have a positive impact not only on the natural environment but help save you money too.

You don’t even have to have your green sensibilities switched on all month long – here is a list of the big-ticket items, which if you get right, you’ve reduced your environmental footprint by a large amount.

Christmas Tree: This one is slightly contentious, as the debate takes place year after year. We get advised to use real trees as the plastic ones are highly damaging to the environment. Yet, in Singapore, the case for real trees is not a very strong one. No doubt, real trees are green and natural and spread an amazing aura throughout your home to remind you it’s Christmas – but they do carry a carbon footprint through being transported across the world from their countries of origin.

IKEA has been selling real trees in Singapore since 1990 and they get sold like hot cakes. In 2011, to reduce their environmental impact, while grappling with what to do with the tree post-Christmas, IKEA gave customers the option of bringing their trees back to IKEA for recycling in January. And recycle they did! At both their stores, Alexandra and Tampines, trees were dropped off after Christmas and IKEA’s recycled trees were recycled into woodchucks and mulch giving life to new plants. This year, however, is the first year that IKEA is not selling any real trees. Go figure.

The plastic ones, are not necessarily any better, although they last for longer, they are typically made from non-recyclable plastic and probably shipped from great distances as well. Their countries of origin are even more debatable when one considers most are made in poor countries where the labour rights and standards are highly questionable. Plastic trees tend to be re-used for six to eight years at best, but they invariably end up in a landfill where they never degrade.

So what is the green-est option? It will require a bit of ingenuity, creativity and usually a labour of love. The greenest option is to make your own arrangements with branches or design a funky Christmas tree against the wall with books, cardboard etc. – decorate with homemade trinkets and recycled goodies. If you really want to buy some, make sure they’re manufactured to last. But if you decide to make your own, you will probably get full marks for originality!

Skip the Disposables – In Singapore, where we have the luxury of having help around the kitchen throughout the year, Christmas can be a daunting time for most of us. Yes, I am terrified as I have decided to host Christmas this year for some friends and am oh-so-tempted to get disposables for the kids (of course, us adults eat on fancy crockery)! However, after much deliberation I have decided to go with regular dishes and cloth napkins instead. Do refrain from using ‘disposable’ anything – paper napkins, cups and plastic silverware – at Christmas parties this year. The disposable culture is a luxury we can’t afford, just imagine how much ends up in landfills globally. If you must use disposable, spring for unbleached compostable products (corn ware at Cold Storage) that has less toxins and break down more easily than conventional disposables which last forever in landfills.

Save Energy: There are so many ways to waste energy over the silly season, but even more ways to be responsible and save energy. Switch to LED holiday bulbs for your tree and home. They are safe to touch and won’t burn your hands! They save up to 80-90 percent of your energy costs, and are long-lasting. Enjoy an old-fashioned Christmas and use candles, soy based preferably, which will provide some fantastic mood lighting. If you have decorated with a lot of Christmas lights on your tree, you may not need to use your conventional lamps and other lighting fixtures quite as much, especially in the evening. When your Christmas lights are plugged in, they may be bright enough to light the room for you, eliminating the need to flip one more switch. Enjoy the dim romantic lighting.

Don’t crank up your aircon (this is for those yearning for a cold, white Christmas back home) and don’t leave your oven on unnecessarily long. Try and refrain from opening your oven or fridge too much as it loses a large amount of heat and cold, both of which take a lot of energy to produce.

Decorations: Use recycled decorations – make your own. If you have kids, have them collect items from around the house and be creative. An idea – use old CDs and boxes or cartons to make your tree sparkle. If you must buy, decorate your tree with products that are fairly-traded and ethically sourced. Look online for ideas on how to be creative or look at organisations like the WWF, who always have ideas for us. Get creative and own your Christmas!

My favourites include Christmas stockings made from recycled fabric, felt dove and robin decorations, using old white socks (stuffed with rice) to make snow men to put around the tree, distressed glass baubles and a cloth advent calendar kit. See our homemade Advent Calendar article here.

Gifts: Last year, my kids had long lists and for some bizarre reason, I did buy too many presents. This year, I am going for quality over quantity. Choose gifts that are meaningful, ethically sourced, produced and traded. Buy kids battery free gifts. Batteries contain toxic chemicals, do not biodegrade and are difficult to recycle. Give presents made from natural presents. Try buying local, to minimise long shipping miles from the US and UK (see our Very Vanilla Christmas Gift Ideas for dogs or humans).

Try making your own Christmas cards. Put those kids to work, they will absolutely love it. Use recycled kiddy art and old newspapers (add some sparkle and ribbons) to use as wrapping paper. Finally, make thoughtful gifts at home. My favourite gifts this year are body scrubs. I have been making the most delectable coconut oil and sugar based coffee and cinnamon flavoured (two flavours I associate with Christmas) body scrubs which can be bunged into a mason jar with a pretty ribbon and you’re set. Get onto Pinterest and look for crafty things to make, from homemade, natural lip balms to soap bombs.

Donate and Re-Gift: Yes – you read this one right. There is so much awkwardness and guilt around passing on gifts you did not like, or are never going to use. Seriously, do it, instead of letting things sit around in the cupboards of your home. This year, if you started the holidays by getting a new wardrobe then go through your closet to donate used clothes and unwanted things you don’t wear to local charities, there are plenty in Singapore. Most of us start charity at home, and pass things we don’t use to our helpers, who love sending items back home for their kids, nieces and nephews. The main thing is to give away stuff around the house that you don’t use enough.

The Big Day Itself: Don’t forget to keep your green sensibilities in mind on the big day itself. Use less and don’t waste, especially since the day is all about eating, drinking and being merry. Using leftovers and transforming these into fun meals is a fantastic way to save money and cut waste. Search for Christmas leftovers recipes or simply re-heat whatever ingredients you’ve got in the fridge and add some new ingredients. My favourite tip from my mother-in-law, who does this with meticulous detail, is to freeze the turkey in sandwich sized small portions and use these for sandwiches for lunch – awesome with a fresh garden salad thrown in.

Think of your home, the earth, as you count your blessings this year! There ain’t no other, so take it upon yourself to create change.

Happy Holidays!

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