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Community, Environment & Wildlife

How to Stay Environmentally Conscious Over the Holiday Season

November 27th 2019

Snow forest in SlovakiaWolf Conservation Volunteers | Slovakia Wilderness | Working AbroadFrom here in Canada, things are swinging into full-gear as the winter holiday season fast approaches. The malls are jam-packed with eager shoppers lining up to fill their carts with gifts for friends and family. Coffee shops have switched out their pumpkin spice lattes for peppermint mochas and window displays are showcasing Santa Claus and his elves.

The twinkling lights that wrap around trees and houses never cease to make me feel all jolly inside, but this year I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by all the rampant consumption around me. The environmentally negative impact of the holiday season is screaming just as loudly as the sale announcements blaring all over media sources.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the holiday season is wonderful to have during a time where the days are dark, cold and clouded in Canada – we all need a little pick me up at this point in the year. However, it’s upsetting to also witness the blatant disregard for the environment when we’re considering what to eat, buy and exchange. Watching all the wrapping paper and plastic bags consumed for such a short period of time is a nagging reminder of the unsustainable lifestyle that many of us lead. With that said, there’s a balance that can be achieved between enjoying and making the most out of the holidays, while still paying respect to the environment and materials we’re using to support it. I’m going to share a few of my own adjustments to get through the holidays just a little more sustainably this year.

Firstly, if I’m asked what kinds of things are on my “wish list”, I’m suggesting to friends and family that they purchase sustainable or environmentally friendly products. This includes things like reusable tote bags, thermoses, cutlery kits, reusable sandwich bags or handmade soaps. There’s a wide arrange of products available for the eco-conscious person on your “to-buy for” list. Other options could also include supporting local businesses that use materials that are sourced close to home, saving you the carbon emissions from shipping overseas. This also helps to spur your local economy and will most likely satisfy your friends and family who are looking for something unique and special!

Quechua fabricsVolunteer Peru | Learn Spanish | Working AbroadWhen gift giving this year, I’m going to try my best to create gifts from scratch or make something delicious for my friends and family to consume. Although this might take a bit more time than hopping over to the store, it will save you from having to push through testy shoppers and wait in line. Some ideas I’m thinking about are making my own candles and reusing glass yogurt containers, jars and old tea cups as the holders. You can buy soy wax in bulk and use essential oils to add scents.

Another easy gift idea is to make reusable make-up pads to replace cotton rounds for removing make-up or using facial toners. This is an easy gift to make from old towels or sweatshirts that you can cut up into small circles or squares for future use. And if all else fails, I suggest baking some granola or cookies to share – everyone loves to receive a little sugar.

In addition, I’m going to work towards wrapping my gifts in leftover newspaper or old pieces of fabric. This may not be as pretty as the flashy wrapping paper and bows being touted around but at least I can feel better about its ability to be recycled or reused! Plus, with burlap string and twigs of pine you can still make your gifts look festive. Using an old scarf, pieces of fabric or cloth is also a great way to wrap up a present and give someone something to reuse later.

Environmentally conscious Volunteer group in IcelandVolunteer Iceland | Tree Planting Iceland | Working AbroadChoosing to buy an experience, such as concert tickets, sports games or theatre shows, are other great options for saving on wrapping paper and physical items. Alternatively, you can donate to a charity or environmental advocacy group of your choice on behalf of a loved one. This is a great low-waste option that also helps to put your money towards a cause that you or a friend may care about. Often when donating you might even receive a small token or gift from the organization itself to remind you or the receiver of your support.

Whether you’re celebrating for the upcoming holiday season or simply looking forward to some time with family and friends, I hope that these ideas will help you to remember the environment in your future purchases for others. It is possible to still show you care both for others and the earth with gifts that are meaningful and sustainable. Happy holidays to those near and abroad!

Article by WorkingAbroad Blog Writer Emma Pietropaolo

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