Still not through your Christmas gift list? Why not consider giving experiential presents like memberships, a spa package or cooking lessons for a cheery and eco-friendly Christmas?
“The first thing that comes to mind when you think of the holidays, it’s always about getting people gifts. It’s the season of giving, but it also means it’s a season of a lot of consuming, like buying certain products,” said Marian Ledesma, Zero Waste campaigner of Greenpeace in Southeast Asia.
In fact, nongovernmental organization Ecowaste Coalition came up with the term “holitrash”—a portmanteau of the words “holiday” and “trash”—in reference to the waste that ends up in the dump during the Yuletide season.
Christmas is that time of the year when plastic and food waste are at an all-time high. From excessive bubble wraps and plastic packaging from e-commerce sites, to paper bags from brick-and-mortar stores, a lot of plastic waste is headed to the bins during the holidays, said Ecowaste Coalition national coordinator Aileen Lucero.
So how does one celebrate the holidays in a more sustainable way—especially during a pandemic, when waste has increased due to the necessary use of protective equipment and the rise of online shopping?
Ledesma said that DIY, or making gifts, is one eco-friendly practice. It’s personal, it reduces consumption and so many materials can be upcycled to make the perfect and unique gift.
Greenpeace also encourages giving experiential gifts.
“They’re this awesome concept because they don’t encourage consumption of material goods. But you can sort of provide a different memory or a great skill or experience to the person that you’re gifting to,” she added.
Baking cookies or cakes or even singing songs to loved ones can be a good intangible gift, Ledesma said. More importantly, it’s about spending quality time with loved ones after a long series of lockdowns.
For those who are opting for retail, both organizations encourage buying locally made products. Bring reusable bags when shopping and don’t forget to reuse wrapping papers and old bags.
When it comes to “noche buena,” Lucero said it’s important to buy local and shop at zero-waste stores.
She clarified that zero-waste stores also include the palengke, because the produce is not wrapped in plastic unlike in groceries.
Local food also has less carbon emissions, Ledesma added, because the products are grown in a more ecological way. And it’s not just the environment that benefits from shopping at the market.
“You’re also supporting farmers and supporting the local food system in the Philippines,” Ledesma said.
Grow your own food
Growing one’s own food is also a good practice, and more people started doing it in the beginning of the pandemic.
And while Filipinos love their lechon or Christmas ham on their spread, Ledesma recommended having plant-based dishes on the noche buena spread.
During the New Year’s Eve festivities, Lucero said people should do away with firecrackers, which are harmful to the environment, to one’s health and to animals.
“It’s better to use alternative merry noisemakers—amp up the radio, karaoke, bang kitchen pots and pans, make homemade maracas using PET bottles and coins or stones,” she said.
These improvised merrymakers are also safe, unlike firecrackers that may cause serious injuries.
For decorations, Lucero noted that Christmas ornaments should be cleaned and stored properly after the festivities to make sure they can be reused for a long time. It’s not just Earth-friendly but also budget-friendly.
But it’s not just consumers who should be mindful of the trash during holidays. Lucero said store owners should do away with Styrofoam or plastic packaging for food and instead use reusable containers to prevent waste.
Ledesma added that aside from the social movement toward sustainable practices, the government and businesses should play their role to promote a circular economy.