How to have an environmentally-friendly holiday season

The holiday season is here, and in many parts of the world, that means one thing: shopping – and lots of it.

We are packed with a long list of Christmas clothes and presents to get for ourselves and our loved ones.

However, all of that buying is hurting the planet. Imagine everything you are going to buy this season, multiplied by 8 billion people! It is part of an unsustainable consumer culture that is feeding a triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

Did you know?

UNEP supported research shows that about two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions are linked to household decisions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that lifestyle changes could help slash planet-warming emissions by up to 70 per cent by 2050.

“It is possible to have enjoyable and memorable holidays and buy and spend less this holiday season by embracing some changes in our consumer habits,” says Garrette Clark, an expert in sustainable living with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 

 Here’s what you can do this holiday to ensure you enjoy your break sustainably:

  1. Offer home-made, recycled or upcycled gifts

To reduce consumption yet give memorable gifts, you can get creative with gift-giving. You could, for example, skip buying off-the-rack new gifts for your family and friends and make something they’re sure to love, like a home-made batch of cookies. Or source your gifts from companies that upcycle items or use recycled sustainable materials. This way, you’d be promoting a circular economy that focuses on reducing waste and increasing reuse, recycling and recovery of products and materials. 

  • 2. Create a new Holiday Look

People buy 60 percent more clothing today than 15 years ago, and each item is kept for only half as long. The toll on the planet is heavy: the fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for 2-8 percent of global carbon emissions. Rethinking your look or gifts can be a celebration of more sustainable fashion and reduce your carbon footprint.

This year, think about a holiday look that takes advantage of what you value most in your closet. If you add something, check out vintage or swapping. If you buy new, buy better. You can choose amongst a growing number of designers and brands that have committed to sustainable supply chains and manufacturing. At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2018 (COP 24), several fashion companies signed the UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, pledging to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

In addition, the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion coordinates between UN agencies working in fashion and promotes projects and policies to ensure that fashion contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

  • 3. Buy and Travel Local

Buying locally made products and locally grown food has a slew of benefits. It can be more economical. It helps local businesses. And it cuts down on how far goods must travel, reducing the amount of fossil fuels burned during transportation.

Opting for a vacation closer to home, and preferably in nature, can be rewarding for your health, the local economy, the environment, and your pocketbook.  If you do travel abroad, try to stay longer, eat local, ditch disposables, and be proactive in managing your carbon footprint.    

  • 4. Buy Second Hand

During the holiday season, many retailers lure people in with sales. Try to resist the temptation of lower prices. Instead, buy unique, second-hand things and find new homes for things you no longer want. This not only offers creative, unique gifts but saves cash and encourages reuse. If you do buy new, opt for better-quality products that will last longer and be used many times before being remanufactured, recycled or thrown away.

5. Swap Disposables for Reusables

Every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our ocean. Half of all plastic produced is designed for single-use purposes – used just once and then thrown away. Plastic pollution can reduce ecosystems’ ability to adapt to climate change, directly affecting millions of people’s livelihoods, food production and well-being. 

Addressing the problem of plastic pollution will require looking at what drives our consumption and a full life-cycle approach in which consumers play a critical role.

You can start by saying ‘no’ to single-use plastic packaging. Each year, 5 trillion plastic bags are used, the majority of which end up in oceans. Avoid disposable cups, plastic water bottles and food containers, replacing them with reusable items.

Before you wrap your holiday gifts, consider that every year, about 11.2 billion tonnes of solid waste is collected worldwide. The increasing volume and complexity of waste associated with the modern economy is posing a serious risk to ecosystems and human health. Try to wrap gifts in recycled paper or reusable material, such as beautiful textiles.