What is the impact of the Christmas season and how to resist the urge to buy?
The holiday season can be a time of many temptations. We shopped at the end of November to take full advantage of Black Friday discounts. Now, during the month of December, we go shopping for Christmas gifts for family and friends. And after that, it's likely that we'll go back, to exchange one or more gifts we've received, or even because we let ourselves be won over by the prices of post Christmas sales.
The truth is that around this time the incentive for consumption is intensified, whether it may be in the festive season itself or in the upcoming sales.
A study carried out in 2020 by Quercus, a Portuguese association that fights for nature conservation, concluded that the garbage produced by Portuguese people during the festive period is 24% higher compared to the rest of the year. In Portugal alone, 19 million straws and 13 million single-use cups are discarded at this time; 1,200 tonnes of Christmas trees and 54 tonnes of decorative lights are thrown away; 6 million plates full of food are wasted and around 3 million trees are cut down to make gift wrapping paper.
Of course, these are just “isolated” numbers relating to the disposal of certain products, but they are already enough to make us reflect. If we think, for example, about the number of discarded Christmas lights, there are other variables that we need to take into account, such as the amount of copper, plastic, glass and other materials that are used to produce new lights, or even the amount of energy that goes into keeping these Christmas lights on.
And if Black Friday and the Christmas season are no longer the best days for our planet, the winter sales that are just around the corner could be one more thing to add to this snowball of unsustainability. They are known for having great promotions, which are a strategy used by stores to sell out the stock of products left over from Christmas and get more profits to achieve certain goals before the end of the year. But let's not completely demonize these sales. In a time of inflation and decreasing purchasing power, discounts may be a solution for most families. Even so, we must remain alert and not allow ourselves to be persuaded by advertising strategies, which often lead us to impulsive and thoughtless purchase behaviour.
How to achieve a more sustainable festive season
This is a time when it is essential that we make more conscious choices, and there are many tips that can help us to achieve this.
Regarding Christmas decorations, which are something that we only use for a few days and spend the rest of the year locked away and out of sight, it helps if we try to reuse decorations from previous years, or even create our own decorations with materials that we keep at home; it helps if we limit the time period in which we keep the Christmas lights on, for example, turning them on only during the advent period and when we have family around the house; if we need to buy a new Christmas pine tree, try to opt for one that resulted from a forest clearing and that can be planted later, or buy a plastic one that we know is of sufficient quality to last several years.
A solution that could also be very useful is to create lists. A list of what foods to buy for the holidays, a list of what gifts to buy… lists for everything! If we know exactly what we need and if we are committed to buying only what is necessary, lists can help us control impulse buying and not fall into the temptation to buy things that we are unlikely to use very much.
When it comes to shopping – and because sometimes it is really necessary to buy – it can help to reduce our carbon footprint if we opt for local products (since they generate jobs in our region and, among other advantages, do not depend so much on the use of fossil fuels for their transport), it helps to buy second-hand when possible, and try to buy more experiences rather than physical things.
The tips are vast and easy to follow. IF they didn't arrive on time to guide your choices for this Christmas, they can still help you make more conscious choices in these winter sales. The timing is never off, nor is it ever too late!