The holidays are a difficult time to act sustainably, but I challenge you to try to reduce your waste and consumption this year.
Household waste can increase more than 25 per cent during the Christmas season, according to Zero Waste Canada. The holidays are meant to be a time for sharing love, not presents. This year, my family will be working to significantly reduce our waste, by exchanging no presents at all. We will also be going on a hiking/skiing trip into the backcountry on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to reconnect with the beauty of natural British Columbia.
Although this attempt to reduce is extreme, there are many things ordinary people can do to limit holiday excesses.
One of the problems with this joyful season is the consumerist mentality encompassing it. I encourage each of you to adapt to a new principle, buying only a few meaningful and experiential gifts or those adhering to a reduced-waste lifestyle. Try buying mesh produce bags, shampoo and conditioner bars, reusable mugs and water bottles, metal straws, a car kit of reusable to-go containers or other products that promote multi-use, waste-free consumption. When you buy your friends and family gifts like this, it helps set them on a path to reducing waste.
Gift wrapping is also important. According to Zero Waste Canada, Canadians send about 540,000 tonnes of gift wrap and gift bags to the landfill each holiday season. Most wrapping paper cannot be recycled because of the dyes and glitter on it or the tape attached. Instead of these single-use materials, try using Christmas cloth bags, paper grocery bags, newspaper, or at the very least, recyclable, brown, un-dyed wrapping paper. Make ribbons out of pieces of colourful old clothes to decorate your gifts! It looks just as lovely with an added simple, environmental touch that will spark a conversation on zero-waste initiatives on Christmas morning.
But what type of tree should these zero-waste presents be placed under? A typical six-foot-five-inch plastic fake tree produces 40 kg of CO2 in its petroleum-based material combined with its production, packaging and transportation. But is a real tree any better?
The climate crisis makes every tree valuable in reducing carbon in the air. For this reason, my family purchased a sapling pine tree in a pot that we will reuse for many years as it grows in our backyard during the off-season, and best of all, it will have a negative carbon footprint. If you do decide to cut down a tree, decisions about where to purchase and dispose of it are also significant.
Make sure to buy from a local tree farm, as supermarket trees are typically wrapped in plastic netting and transported long distances. In terms of disposal, if a natural tree is sent to landfill, it will produce 16 kg of CO2 per year and, over a few years, CO2 emissions will exceed that of a fake tree.
By contrast, if you take your real tree to the annual White Rock Fire Fighters Tree Chip, typically held on the first weekend of January at Centennial Park, your tree will have a “negligible or negative carbon footprint,” Carbon Trust proclaims.
This is my family’s first year truly considering sustainability in our celebrations. While you may not take on all of these initiatives, it helps to be conscious of every choice you make and its impact on our environment.
Miranda Clark is a Grade 12 student at Earl Marriott Secondary. She writes monthly on ways to reduce waste and minimize our environmental footprint.