I’m not going to lie to you – we probably buy just as much plastic crap for our kids as anybody else. Legos, Hero Factory figures, toy trains and cars, our kids love all these things and I wouldn’t want them not to have them. But we do want to make an effort to limit our negative ecological impact this Christmas (well, all the time, of course, but particularly for the holiday) and pass on to our kids the importance of caring for others and the environment. Here are a few ideas that can help with both.
For the hardcore:
- Opt out altogether. Adbusters.org, in addition to promoting and organizing a “Buy Nothing Day,” is encouraging people to buy nothing for Christmas and campaigning for people to participate in anti-consumer activities, such as “Zombie Walks” through shopping malls and offering to cut up credit cards. While I applaud their philosophy and their activism, try explaining to your kids that they’re not getting anything on their Christmas list because you’re taking a moral stand.
For the rest of us:
- Buy a live tree that can be replanted, or get a real tree and make sure it’s recycled after the holiday rather than dumped in a landfill. The wood chips from Christmas trees are used by municipal governments in parks and landscaping. Going to a tree farm to pick out a tree is a great pre-Christmas tradition with kids, and you’re supporting a local business in the bargain. If you can’t get to a tree farm, try to find a cut tree grown locally.
- Leave the blinking Santa sleigh and the pulsating snowman in the attic. Minimize your Christmas lighting, and use LED lights that use much less energy.
- Forty percent of battery sales come in the holiday season. Use rechargable batteries, and make sure you bring spent batteries to recycling stations rather than tossing them in the garbage. The toxic metals – cadmium, cobalt, and lead - used in batteries end up in the soil and water, but they can be reused to make new batteries if they are recycled properly.
- Gifts can be wrapped in newspaper, but let’s face it – it’s ugly. Instead, look for wrapping paper made from recycled material, or use pages from magazines that are colorful and decorative.
- Send ecards instead of traditional Christmas cards. The huge volume of cards sent in the US during the holidays requires the harvesting of roughly 300,000 trees, and the waste would fill a football stadium to a height of 10 stories. There are loads of free ecards out there, many with cool animation or funny messages, and chances are your friends and family will appreciate the thought just as much.
- Some time in the weeks before Christmas, organize a toy swap with your friends who have kids. Everyone brings together toys that are in good condition but their kids don’t play with anymore and exchanges them. Toys don’t have to be brand new – they just have to be new to that child.
- Shop on Ebay, at flea markets, used book shops or antique stores. Want some new skis for the wife? Get online and find a used pair in good condition – it will probably cost you less than half of what brand new ones would. You can find amazing gifts that don’t require production or packaging – even Legos for the kids or action figures or whatever can be had online.
- Give services rather than products. A professional massage, ski or karate lessons, an annual pass to the zoo, a weekend getaway at a B&B – these are all fabulous gifts.
- Buy recycled or eco-friendly gifts. Uncommon Goods and Gifts.com are good places to find recycled and/or green gifts, but there are lots of other sites out there. Natural Kids is a “group of artisans from around the world who share a love for handcrafting eco friendly & all-natural toys, clothing, decor and more for kids,” and Nature Watch has awesome nature-related kids’ gifts.
- For years my parents made a donation in our honor to Heifer International, an organization that helps “families around the world receive training and animal gifts that help them become self-reliant,” and we’ve continued the tradition with our kids. I usually go with a gift of bees. I like bees. And honey. The Nature Conservancy also has great conservation gifts; last Mother’s Day I got my wife an acre in Costa Rica, but even $1 buys a tree in their Plant a Billion program. Globalgiving.org has a massive database of charities in a wide range of categories, and provides a clear breakdown of how your money is spent as well as updates on specific programs and projects. Or go with a donation to a local organization – some place they can visit and actually see how they are helping.
- Make your own DIY gifts and crafts, or make something together with your kids. Busy Bee Kids Crafts has fantastic craft ideas.
- Rather than picking up a frozen turkey all hopped up on hormones, get a locally raised one from a small producer. The turkey will be better, and you’re supporting members of your community at the same time. See if you can get all of the ingredients for Christmas dinner from local producers – localharvest.org has extensive listings of farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area.
There are many, many ways you can make your holidays – and your life – friendlier to the environment. In an era when climate change and other ecological disasters loom, it’s time to start thinking a bit differently about everything we can do – both large and small – to ensure that the world our kids inherent isn’t one bereft of natural wonders, of peace and goodwill, of hope. Happy Holidays, people, no matter what holiday you might celebrate.