Garbage collectors always have lots of extra waste to handle the week following Christmas.
All the packaging and food scraps add up. With the dominance of online sales in recent years, most presents take long journeys by plane to reach their intended destinations. In a day and age where more and more people are voicing their concerns about the effects of climate change, Christmas (particularly the more consumerist side of the season) can hardly be viewed as a carbon-neutral holiday.
For those who may feel a bit guilty about wanting to celebrate the holiday season, there are ways to be mindful of having a holly, jolly, environmentally friendly Christmas.
"I think there are lots of ways that we can show we care about people in our lives without just going to the mall and buying them something that they don't even need," said Lea Movelle, operations co-ordinator for the Social Justice Co-operative of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Tiffany Small, a board member with Nature Newfoundland and Labrador, one of the province's oldest conservation organizations, says it is important to avoid buying presents simply for the sake of buying them.
"If you have somebody in mind who would really benefit from a gift you thought long and hard about, rather than just going and buying them a gift for the sake of just buying them a gift," said Small.
Melanie Doyle, the education and outreach co-ordinator for Conservation Corps Newfoundland and Labrador's climate change education centre, says she encourages people to consider buying less for the holidays.
"It may be easier said than done, but buying less is the easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint," she told The Telegram. "Reconsider who’s on your shopping list and why. After talking to your friends and family, you’ll likely find that many people want to skip the gift exchange and would prefer to simply spend time together. Maybe a Christmas Eve hike or a Saturday spent volunteering together can replace your annual Secret Santa."
When it comes down to the actual gifts, buying local items is a good place to start. Small says she loves shopping at local craft fairs leading up to the holidays, and Movelle says she likes the idea of supporting local artists.
Doyle points to the benefit of buying locally for the economy and the environment, as the elimination of a need for commercial shipping vessels or transport trucks reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
If people order an item online from a major retailer with a store in the area, Small suggests looking at whether the option is available to order it in-store. This way, the product will come with a regular shipment already destined for the store.
For stocking stuffers, Small suggests taking an empty Mason jar and filling it with shampoo sold at stores that accommodate refills. These jars can also be filled with dry ingredients for baking cookies, with the gift-giver including instructions on what to add and how to bake.
Beyond physical gifts, one can also consider giving an experience.
"An experience is the perfect, packaging-free gift, and there’s an option for everyone on your list," said Doyle. "Take your parents out for a meal, go to a movie with friends or give a museum membership for a gift that lasts all year long. … Consider gifting swimming lessons, drawing classes or a yoga workshop to help your loved one build a life-long skill."
Movelle recommends purchasing a membership to an organization engaged in causes important to the person you're shopping for, and Doyle and Movelle both like the idea of giving of previously used goods.
Doyle says online marketplaces and second-hand stores are great places to shop for gifts, and can save people money and make them feel all the better if the store happens to support a non-profit group.
Movelle and her organization have promoted upcycling, which makes new goods out of old ones a person may otherwise no longer need. Examples of this include taking old T-shirts or other clothing and using them to create patches or quilts.
"There are creative ways to reduce waste and show people you care about them," Movelle said.
For wrapping gifts, Small said reusing old paper is great. For her gifts, she likes to use paper bags or plain brown paper with some twine wrapped around it (most commercial wrapping paper is coated with plastic or contains polymers that won't break down).
Reusing gift bags saved from previous years is another option. Instead of tissue paper for filling these bags, people can consider using old newspapers or flyers.
Longevity is also a worthwhile consideration, Doyle says. For clothes, fabric choices can be made based on how easy it is to mend or repair them. Toys that don't require batteries involve less waste. She also says it's worth considering whether a present will still interest or be useful to the person receiving it in five to 10 years.