While any time is the right time to cut back on a few of our traditional excesses, this season is especially fraught with over-consumption. Are we making sustainable choices? Can we substitute experiences for material gifts? Can we ensure that we don’t waste food? Do we need to wrap our gifts with one-time wrapping paper versus reusable gift bags? And so on . . . .
There will be different answers for every household and that’s fine. The important thing is to ask ourselves these questions (year round, not just during the holidays), and then take whatever steps we can to ensure a more sustainable holiday season and future for everyone on our lists and in our lives – not to mention our grandchildren’s grandchildren. An ancient Iroquois principle advises us, prior to any undertaking, to consider how it will affect the land, water, air, animals, birds, plants and our children . . . seven generations into the future.
As we pursue our commitment to make sustainable choices as part of holiday preparations, here are five tips we can incorporate into our holiday plans:
1. Batteries are a must-have for so many of the gifts on our list. Make them rechargeable! Used, non-rechargeable batteries are deemed hazardous. Residents of Orillia, Oro-Medonte, Ramara and Severn should save used dry-cell and lead-acid batteries for designated pick-ups, or bring to the City of Orillia’s Hazardous Waste Depot for disposal. Rechargeable batteries, while initially more expensive, are the sustainable choice to save money longer-term and avoid adding more hazardous material to our landfills.
2. Christmas trees – A sustainable choice is to buy a living tree that can be planted outside in the spring. This reduces carbon emissions rather than adding to them. If you purchase a natural tree that’s pre-cut, take advantage of the City of Orillia’s collection service for disposing of them. After Christmas, your used tree can be picked up as part of your regular garbage schedule, following which it will be chipped and added to the City’s composting process. Some people park their tree outside in a snow-bank until spring, as a shelter for winter birds. Artificial trees, although made from plastic, are an acceptable alternative for some, with the caveat that they should be maintained and stored carefully to avoid having to replace them after just a couple of years.
3. Articles of clothing are popular gift items at Christmas; the eco-caution here is to shop for durability and quality. Avoid adding to the disposable mindset that sends over two million tonnes of used clothing to landfill every year in Canada. When you are cleaning out your closet to make room for those new items, take your used garments to a local charity shop so someone else can enjoy them. Be part of the circular economy and repurpose used items whenever you can.
4. When shopping for gifts, look for locally-produced gifts. You are reducing our overall carbon footprint when you buy a gift made here in Simcoe-Muskoka versus purchasing on-line products that have already travelled around the world before arriving on your doorstep. Buy gifts that keep giving, such as a basket of local groceries and natural products.
5. Electrify just about everything—appliances, home heating and yes, cars. Electricity is Canada’s cleanest energy source for many provinces, including Ontario. We need to replace fossil fuels with clean electricity. By mid-century, according to studies, clean electricity will make up half or more of our energy mix, heating our buildings and powering our vehicles. Electrifying as much as possible with clean energy will be a pillar of Canada’s efforts to reach zero carbon emissions.
The Christmas season, because it is traditionally a time for consumers to “buy, buy, buy,” is a wonderful opportunity to re-think how we will celebrate the season. When we do, we soon realize that it is experiences with family and friends that are the really satisfying way to celebrate “Peace on Earth.”
We at Sustainable Orillia wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a safe and healthy holiday season.