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16 Ways To Minimize Your Carbon Footprint This Christmas

Christmas—despite its biblical origins and self-professed giving spirit—is an orgy of consumption. The holidays see more food, more drinks, more shopping, more gifts, more travel and more human-gatherings than any other time of the year. It also sees more garbage, waste and senseless squandering of the earth’s depleting resources. Tis the season, am I right?

This year, take a moment to turn down the Michael Bublé and think about the impact your festivities are having on the environment. From eco-friendly gift wrapping to sustainably sourced trees, there are plenty of ways to eat, drink, be merry and be a friend to the planet.

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The Tree

Real and plastic Christmas trees are both evergreen, but they’re also both never green. Get it? That was a fancy way of saying that whether your tree was cut down at a farm or created in a factory, you’re increasing your personal carbon footprint. Which of the two is less bad is an age-old question, with studies showing that the difference it so small, it really doesn’t matter which you choose. Here’s what science has to say: the American Christmas Tree Association (this is a real thing) did a comparative life cycle assessment in 2010 (it’s 210 pages), and found that “the impact of the tree life cycle, for all scenarios, is less than 0.1% of a person’s annual carbon footprint and therefore is negligible within the context of the average American’s lifestyle.”

1. If you opt for a real tree, look out for FSC Certification. This will confirm that your tree has been sourced sustainably.

2. When the holidays are over and it’s time to kick your festive decor to the curb, seek out local council recycling schemes that repurpose or replant trees.

3. If a fake tree is more your style, try picking up a secondhand one from an Internet marketplace like Kijiji or Facebook.

4. Or, since Christmas is sort of an annual thing, you could consider investing in a high-quality artificial Christmas tree that will last a lifetime, rather than a cheap one you’ll have to soon replace.

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The Lights

Your best bet: skip them all together and light a bunch of soy candles instead. But if you aren’t interested in being the single light-less Scrooge on your street, you can make these small changes to your yearly light set-up.

5. Use LED lights on your home and your Christmas tree. LED lights use about 80-90% less energy than traditional light bulbs, which means you’re doing your electricity bill and Mother Nature a favour.

6. Put your lights on a timer so that they aren’t wasting electricity when you drink too many rum and eggnogs and forget to turn them off before bed.

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The Cards

A thoughtful Christmas card is the perfect way to show a distant friend or relative a little love over the holidays. But instead of sending a physical card in the mail—Think of the paper! Think of the delivery emissions!—

7. Design an e-card, write an email (add festive emoji!) or simply give someone a “Merry Christmas” FaceTime call. I promise they’ll appreciate the message just as much.

8. Save the cards you receive and cut them into holiday gift wrapping tags for next Christmas.

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The Wrapping Paper

The easy answer would be to stop giving physical gifts all together. Instead of buying plastic toys and brand new pieces of technology, you could gift everyone on your shopping list a tree! It’s a charming idea—and at $4.00 a piece, you should consider it—but it’s not an entirely realistic goal for everyone. So if you’re going to to be wrapping gifts this season, here are some of the ways to reduce your waste.

9. Skip the wrapping paper. If you’re a parent, consider letting Santa leave small, organized piles of gifts for your children. They’ll start playing right away, and you can go back to sleep.

10. Buy something reusable — like this fabric gift wrap from Montreal-based brand La Petite Boite Co. — or consider wrapping your gifts in something reused, like newspaper.

11. Foil and glitter wrapping paper is pretty, but it can’t be recycled. If you’re going to buy wrapper paper, skip these options altogether. And also, it’s important to remember to remove all tape before tossing paper in the recycling bin.

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The Food

Extravagant food displays are a hallmark of the holidays. Ensure that not a bite is destined for the trash by diligently planning and preparing the right amount—and the right type—of food.

12. Opt for turkey over roast beef. According to University of Michigan’s Centre for Sustainable Systems, for each serving of beef there are approximately seven pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents (beef production releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas). One serving of poultry, however, has just over one pound of carbon dioxide equivalents. Or, skip the meat altogether and try Lauren Toyota’s roasted cauliflower skillet, which comes basted with a savoury gravy and looks just as impressive as the real thing.

13. Let your guests serve themselves to ensure people only fill their plates with what they’ll actually eat. Bonus: you’ll end up with all the leftovers, instead of their plate scraps ending up in your garbage.

14. There are hundreds of things you can do with your leftover holiday food—and they aren’t all hot gravy sandwiches. Here are just 40 out-of-the-box ideas from Food Network Canada.

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The Travel

Whether you’re escaping the Canadian cold or heading out of town to visit family, there’s a good chance you’re leaving home over the holidays. Here’s how you can avoid letting your travel plans spoil all the hard work you did to keep your carbon footprint down.

15. Carpool to family events and social gatherings. It cuts your carbon output, and makes the parking situation a whole lot easier.

16. According to The New York Times, “one round-trip flight between New York and California [generates] about 20 per cent of the greenhouse gases that your car emits over an entire year.” If you’re getting on an airplane, purchase a carbon offset to help balance it all out. Read more here.