As the holidays approach, it’s easy to throw away your conscience and indulge freely in the festivities. But this Christmas, remember that we’ve got not only an economy to save, but an environment too. If you’re living in Aquitaine, France this holiday season, read these tips for ways you can help preserve our planet while still getting in on the fun.
1) Cut back on Christmas lights. In the last ten years, light pollution has become a growing problem and France has seen a 30% increase in the general use of lights, according to the Agir Pour L’Environnement association. In 2007, towns in France spent more than one million euros to light up their streets during the winter.
This Christmas, remember that a little goes a long way. Instead of decking out your house with plastic Santas and twenty strings of multi-colored light, go for fewer and more subtle strands to get the same effect or seek out LED (Light Emitting Diode) bulbs, which are more energy efficient than regular bulbs and can last for years without burning out. Whatever you choose, be sure to turn off lights during the day and when you go to bed to save even more energy.
2) Stop the present wrapping madness. Besides all the retail packaging involved in many toys, kitchenware and electronics, there’s also the issue of gift-wrapping. Wrapping paper, bows and cards can accumulate quickly if you’ve got a big family or are feeling generous this year. The Syndicat Départemental des Déchets de la Dordogne says that in 2007, Périgord residents created 645 kilos of waste per person for a total of about 240,260 tons – the equivalent in kilos of 431 AIRBUS A380 planes.
With the season of giving comes a marked increase in the amount of waste we produce. It’s not to say you can’t get in on the fun of opening presents, but instead use fabric, newspaper or recyclable paper, use as little as possible and make sure to recycle afterwards. You can also forego the paper completely by hiding gifts around the house and sending family members on a treasure hunt to find them.
3) When giving gifts, think about eco-friendly items. If it’s sweets you’re after, go for organic products that respect the environment like Alter Eco, Kaoka or Cemoi Chocolatier. Consider organic beauty products from Weleda or Emma Noël. Or look for items that aren’t smothered in plastic packaging. When considering battery-operated gifts, look for those with rechargeable batteries or powered by solar energy.
Send e-cards instead of paper ones, make gifts instead of buying, and above all, re-use bags when out shopping – each year in France, 70,000 tons of plastic bags are consumed. You can also think about donating money to a charity organization in honor of your friend or family member, generating very little waste at all. Heifer International gives money to impoverished communities around the world to buy local animals, which provide them with valuable and continuing resources like food and income.
4) Think about how much gas you’re using over the holiday season. The holidays mean lots of driving around going shopping and to parties, and staying up into the wee hours trying to get everything done by Christmas Eve. Try to carpool as much as possible to avoid spending extra money on gas, and consider walking places before immediately jumping in the car. To reduce heating costs at home, grab a cozy sweater, turn off the heat and light up the fireplace instead.
5) Just say no to fake trees. Although it can take a little extra work and be a bit of a mess, consider buying a live tree to decorate for Christmas instead of a fake one. Besides reducing waste, a single tree can absorb more than a ton of CO2 over its lifetime. Christmas trees are specially planted for the season, meaning their removal doesn’t contribute to greater deforestation. But don’t just throw it away at the end of the season – it will go into the already exploding landfills. Instead, contact your mairie to find out if they provide a service for picking up or dropping off Christmas trees.
IKEA has partnered up with the ONF (Office National des Forêts) once again to provide vouchers for those who bring their trees into the store between January 2 and 19. Customers will get 19 euros to spend in the store, the tree will be transformed into compost and 1 euro will go towards the ONF and its diverse nature preservation projects. You can also use ‘un sac à sapin de Noël’, a specially designated, biodegradable plastic bag to use when tossing your tree in with other recyclables. Part of the proceeds goes to Handicap International, an association that helps handicapped citizens. Or, if you have the means, you can chop, chip, mulch or compost your tree yourself for use in the garden or fireplace.
6) Reduce your carbon footprint by sending direct. If you’re living abroad, you’re probably buying gifts online. Instead of sending the gift to yourself to hand wrap and send again, send the gift directly to your receiver. You’ll not only save money, but reduce the transportation costs of getting your present to its destination.
7) When decorating your tree, minimize costs and waste by reusing decorations year after year. Make your own from recyclable materials or buy from second-hand stores. Keep your tinsel and garlands to be reused as well. You can also knit your own Christmas stocking instead of buying new. Browse the internet for a list of patterns.
Happy planet-friendly holidays!