For many of us, the winter holidays is a time to gather with friends and family, celebrate the season and enjoy delicious food—the savory and the sweet. But it’s also the time of year when we tend to hit peak consumerism.

With all the demands and distractions leading up to and throughout the holidays, is it even possible to stay sustainable?

It sure is! Especially keeping in mind that to make your holidays sustainable, you don’t need to make them perfect. “Perfect is the enemy of good”, as they say, and that applies firmly to sustainability—and probably the holidays in general!

Setting aside the idea of perfect-or-nothing, there are actually lots of small, but big-impact ways to make the holiday season a little easier on the earth (and your bank account). Check out the info below for a round-up of tips, tricks and best practices for giving, decorating, and eating and drinking sustainably.

Give sustainably

It’s easy to get carried away with gift purchases over the holidays.

Find out how to give sustainably

Shop socially: Amazon might make things easy with one-click shopping, but don’t be fooled, there’s a big environmental cost. Instead, consider shopping locally and/or attending a local craft fair to source that one-of-a-kind, quality gift. Or purchase from a BC-based 2SLGBTQIA+ or IBPOC-owned business—for example, check out this Indigenous online shopping guide, this Black business directory or this list of local trans and non-binary businesses and the Everywhere is Queer map.

Choose quality over quantity: We know, it’s hard to find stuff that lasts, but it’s out there! Stick to stores that sell quality goods and have a solid return policy—to get that one gift that counts. I personally enjoy giving experiences over gifts!

Give the gift of giving: It turns out that giving back is good for our mental health; it’s also good for the planet. Try giving to an organization, charity or cause you know your family member or friend cares about.

Wrap up on wrapping paper: Ditch those rolls of wrapping paper and, in particular, avoid glossy or metallic gift wrap. Instead, try reusable fabric gift wrap or one of these creative gift wrap ideas.

Find more ways to give sustainably.

Decorate sustainably

From choosing a tree to putting up lights, it’s not always clear what makes a sustainable choice.

Find out how to decorate sustainably

Trees: If your celebrations include a Christmas tree, you might be wondering whether a real tree or a fake tree is better for the environment. Well…that’s a complicated story. It depends what your fake tree is made of, how it was manufactured, and how long you use it for. But using a living tree might just be the best option of all!

Ornaments: Like with gifts, choose quality over quantity. Buy durable ornaments for your tree that are made of wood, metal or cloth, which will last much longer than plastic or thin glass. Or let your creative side shine through by upcycling items you may already have around the house, such as wool socks, old toys or photos—and voila, you have your own one-of-a-kind ornament!

Decorations: The same goes for your household decorations. Skip cheap, plastic decorations and go for lasting, quality decorations. Or bring the outdoors inside with natural, handmade decorations. Friends of mine host an annual wreath-making party, where we use foraged greenery that has already fallen to the ground to make decorative wreaths or wall hangings.

Lights and electronic displays: Even if you’re no Clark Griswold, it’s worth making an effort to keep your electricity use, and your hydro bill, down. Consider putting your lights on timers, using LED lighting, and taking some time to replace burnt-out bulbs rather than tossing an entire strand of lights.

Find more ways to decorate sustainably.

Eat and drink sustainably

Celebrating with family and friends is one of the great pleasures of the holidays, but it’s also a big contributor to holiday waste.

Find out how to eat and drink sustainably

Plan ahead: A lot of the food waste we see around the holidays can be avoided by planning ahead and only buying what you need. Make a list and check it twice!

Skip the disposables: Having a big gathering? If you don’t have enough dishes and cutlery, instead of choosing disposable, single-use products, get your guests to bring their own or borrow some from a friend or neighbour. Don’t worry if it doesn’t all match! Plus, consider asking your guests to bring reusable containers for taking home those delicious leftovers.

Turkey: Skip the industrially-produced turkey at the supermarket and go online to find a local butcher shop or farmer selling heritage turkeys or grass-fed, organically-raised turkeys instead. Better yet, make your holiday dinner meatless, which will also keep your meal costs down.

Beverages: Avoid individual-sized beverages where possible. Keep pitchers of water on-hand, make large batches of hot chocolate, iced tea, or even eggnog—or invest in that Soda Stream you always wanted. Good thing wine comes in boxes, right?! 🍷

Food waste: You might know where your compost is located, and what goes in it, but your guests probably won’t, especially if they’re from out of town. Keep a clearly marked waste sorting system, so food waste (and recycling) doesn’t end up in the landfill.

Find more ways to eat, grocery shop and entertain sustainably.

Paula McCready

Contributed by Paula McCready
Purchasing Manager, SHCS