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A Homemade Christmas
Writer:Glenn Perrett

Easy solutions for good, clean holiday fun


If Scrooge can become kind, we can tip the scales a little in favour of the globe this Christmas. Here are a few ideas to help divert waste and create a happy holiday leaving a smaller festive footprint.

Ho-ho-hold the waste

The holidays are an incredibly wasteful time for North Americans resulting in mountains of trash, decimated forests and a vast consumption of energy and other resources. In their book Green Christmas: How to Have a Joyous, Eco- Friendly Holiday Season, Jennifer Basye Sander and Peter Sander point out that Americans generate 25 million extra tons of garbage (about 25 per cent more than during the rest of the year) between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. The authors also provide a mind-boggling statistic pertaining to Christmas cards. "According to Hallmark, the 1.9 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the United States could fill a football field 10 storeys high and consume 300,000 trees."

Are things better locally? No. According to a 2006 Ontario Ministry of the Environment news release, "Ontarians toss about 900,000 additional tonnes of holiday trash – roughly 288 million Christmas cards, one million Christmas trees, around 900 tonnes of aluminum foil, approximately 35,000 tonnes of plastic p ackaging, and an astonishing 23 square kilometres of wrapping paper – enough to cover more than 3,000 football fields."

With landfill sites becoming increasingly valuable, and controversial, and global warming a real threat it is vital that we do whatever we can to reduce our impact.

The green shopper

Shopping for gifts can have a significant impact on the planet, but it doesn't have to. There are numerous ways to avoid the refuse pitfalls we've fallen prey to for decades, even centuries. Making the leap to a greener, more sustainable shopping spree is simple.

You can drastically reduce the shopping part of your festive footprint by avoiding (or at least minimizing) buying gifts with excessive packaging, taking reusable shopping bags with you and doing your shopping in a single trip. Using public transit for those living in urban areas is even better and will save you the hassle of looking for a parking spot. Carpooling with friends or family members is another way to reduce your carbon footprint while shopping.

Items sold in plastic clamshells, bubble wrap and other packaging often not permitted in recycling programs create considerable garbage. Choosing items with minimal packaging is good. Giving gifts such as theatre tickets, tickets to a concert and other presents which don't come with packaging or require much wrapping are even better. Providing your own gift certificates offering babysitting, snow shoveling and similar kind, useful gestures are also good. Gifts from second-hand stores, including books and CDs can also make practical gifts.

Real or artificial

A common Christmas debate is whether to have an artificial or real Christmas tree. And with the less than healthy state of the planet, the debate often turns to the environmental impact these trees have. Both artificial trees and real trees have their benefits. Artificial trees last for years resulting in numerous real trees not having to be killed. Real trees remove carbon dioxide and other pollutants and provide oxygen. They also stabilize soil and provide shelter for animals.

Unfortunately, real and artificial trees also have a dark side. Christmas tree farms use pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. These trees are also cut down when they are young, long before their maximum benefits to the environment are realized. There is also a significant carbon footprint in transporting Christmas trees to market. According to Statistics Canada, more than two million Christmas trees were exported from Canada in 2007.

The news isn't any better with artificial trees and may be worse. Artificial trees are made from plastics and metals which aren't readily biodegradable. When their lifespan is up, they take up valuable room in landfills. Many artificial trees come from China further adding to their carbon footprint.

Here's another bright idea

The "tree" that our family has each Christmas is eco-friendly, sustainable and it's fun to get and decorate. It also smells nice. And, it's also not a tree – it's a branch or a collection of several branches. Our "tree" looks similar to a Christmas tree, albeit it's a little sparser, and it feels and smells like a real tree.

About a week before Christmas our family looks for evergreen trees on our property that could do with a little pruning. Sometimes a single larger branch from a white pine tree makes a nice bough to place gifts beneath. Other times we use a combination of branches, everything from white pine, red pine, white spruce, balsam fir and cedar, to make our tree.

While our tree is not as thick or as full as those grown specifically for Christmas, it is attractive and it allows us more room to hang decorations. We care for our Christmas branch(es) similar to a real Christmas tree by placing it in a tree stand with a water reservoir.

Green decorations

When it comes to decorating, "green" can take many forms. We use LED Christmas lights which save considerable electricity compared to the old bulbs. We also use decorations made by our children and which feature reusable items. Quality decorations from Lee Valley that will last indefinitely and which resemble decorations from years past also adorn our tree. We've also recently created a nice garland made from hemp twine and tags (identification, rabies and licences) from our canine family members.

That's a wrap

It's easy to reduce or eliminate wrapping paper – some of which is not recyclable. Wrap gifts in reusable cloth bags (hemp is particularly good). You can also wrap presents in paper which is recyclable such as newspaper.

Through the year we save the plain paper often used to pack items sent in the mail. We uncrumple the paper and flatten it out and it's ready to decorate. Our children enjoy creating colourful Christmas scenes and pictures for their one-of-a-kind wrapping paper. A fun book that can help children be creative with wrapping paper, while getting their fingers and thumbs dirty, is The Most Amazing Thumb Doodles Book in the History of the Civilized World by the editors of Klutz. The book includes four ink pads and instructions.

Wrapped presents are completed nicely with gift tags made from the previous year's Christmas cards.

Green gifts

Before you buy that special gift, think of the environment (it's not easy to do in the beginning, but soon you'll be doing it automatically). Avoid gifts that are excessively packaged and notify the store's manager of your decision not to buy these items. Try to minimize gifts that use batteries. If you buy a product that requires batteries, consider including rechargeable batteries and a solar battery charger. Quality products that will last a long time and not lose their appeal are also important.

A final word

Global warming, landfill issues and pollution are some of the serious environmental ills threatening our planet. You can have a wonderful holiday with little impact on the environment with some careful, compassionate, eco-friendly decisions. And having a fun, safe, green Christmas may be your greatest gift of all. SLM