Tips for More Eco-Friendly Christmas Celebrations

How Green is Your Christmas?


It’s that time of year again–the sun is out, the kids are home, and Mariah Carey’s voice floats through almost every shopping mall. Christmas in South Africa generally involves a braai, a summer break, and plenty of overindulgence.


The silly season is a time to have fun and leave all your cares behind you, moving into the new year in high spirits. It’s easy to forget about being “good”–things like recycling, saving water, and buying eco-friendly products tend to go out the window. Here’s how to green up your Christmas this year for a more sustainable festive season.


A Zero-Waste Festive Feast


When it comes to Christmas lunch, there’s nothing wrong with going all out. However, some recipes have a bigger environmental impact than others. Food waste skyrockets at this time of year, when many shops run bulk specials on berries, watermelons, cucumbers, and other summer fruits and veggies.


Try to avoid buying unnecessary perishables, or split your grocery haul with a friend to take advantage of the prices without wasting a thing. Another excellent way to avoid waste and share the Christmas spirit is to donate the food you can’t eat to the less fortunate.


If you’re hosting a family meal, consider keeping the kitchen scraps and starting a mini compost heap in your garden. Your plants will thank you later! Alternatively, you can use the meat bones and leftover veggies to make a delicious homemade chicken or beef stock that will keep for months in the freezer.


When it comes to snacks and sweet treats, opt for homemade where you can to keep packaging waste down. If you’re not much of a baker, head to a local Christmas market to grab some stocking fillers and support South African entrepreneurs.


Decorations for Days, Not Hours


When every shop window looks like a Christmas wonderland, the temptation to buy new decorations every year is enormous. If your old tree is in tatters and your tinsel is hanging on by a thread, then by all means, replace them, but always be mindful of quality. Often, the cheapest, most poorly-made Christmas decorations won’t last longer than the season.


That sentiment extends to tablecloths, serviettes, cups, plates, and other dining room decor–reusable is always more eco-friendly. If you’re hosting a really extravagant event, you can always rent your table settings to keep costs down.


Choose decorations made from eco-friendly materials wherever possible, for example, biodegradable glitter and origami ornaments. For ambience, choose high-quality LED Christmas lights for inside and solar lighting for outside to save electricity. Broken CFL and LED lights are e-waste, so they can’t go in the bin and must be recycled. You can drop e-waste off for recycling at Makro and Leroy Merlin stores nationwide.


Giving Greener Gifts


Have you ever received a “gag gift” that was fun on the day but never useful again? Paperweights, toys, jokes, and other novelty items are not the most eco-friendly buys because they’re short-lived and tough to recycle. Like many things in life, quality beats quantity when it comes to Christmas presents. Rather spoil a few special people with thoughtful gifts than shower everyone you know with cheap gimmicks you found online.


Homemade presents are big wins for the environment. Making a chilli sauce, building a wooden jewellery box, or crafting a personalised Christmas card will show your loved ones just how special you think they are. If you want to buy jewellery or clothing, try to find locally-made products that support South African artisans. Wrap your gifts in newspaper or other upcycled materials in keeping with the green theme.


Perhaps the best Christmas gift of all is an experience. Consider gifting someone with a voucher for a restaurant or day spa, a cooking class, movie tickets, a game drive, or any fun activity they might enjoy. Presents like these help people make memories that last longer than material possessions.


Meaningful Christmas Experiences


The old cliché about remembering the true meaning of Christmas has weight when it comes to going green. It’s easy to get caught up in the unsustainable shopping spectacle that December brings. You can still spoil your family and treat yourself after a long year without damaging the planet. Consider spending more time and money on activities than on shopping sprees, and try to make time for charity during the festive season.


If you’re going on holiday, look for eco-lodges that uphold high environmental standards. Carpool to save fuel and refrain from flying everywhere you go–air travel generally has a larger carbon footprint[1] for short trips. Exploring nearby destinations and finding local hidden gems means less travelling and fuel consumption overall.


To offset your Christmas carbon footprint even more, look for ways to give back to the earth during December. For example, making more meatless meals, going thrift shopping, planting a tree with the kids, or joining a beach cleanup day.


Tiny Actions, Big Change


The Christmas season is about celebration, so there will be times when not-so-eco-friendly behaviour is unavoidable. We’re not suggesting you stop the festivities, only that you think twice before buying six light-up plastic reindeer for your dinner table. The actions we take as individuals, though small, can influence how corporations with bigger carbon footprints do business.


If there is no demand for single-use Christmas party cups, businesses might stop making them. In the meantime, try to recycle what you can this December by taking wrapping paper, e-waste, and packaging materials to an eWASA collection point near you (see the map at the bottom of the page).


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