How to Celebrate the Holidays More Sustainably
posted on December 9, 2020 | by Kelley Matney
I’m a holiday season junkie. I love it all, the music, the movies, the lights, the delicious food, and the parties (in pre-Covid times, of course). But, as someone who is doing as much as she can to take conscious steps towards living sustainably, the holiday season is where a lot of work can be done to make a difference. In the United States alone, we create 25% more garbage during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That amounts to 25 million tons of trash!
But don’t fret, there are many things that can be done to celebrate more sustainably while still getting the full holiday experience. Here are a few tips to help get you started.
Think Twice About the Gifts You Give
Giving my friends and family gifts to show them how much they mean to me is one of my favorite things about the holiday season. However, this is also the area where a lot of work can be done to be more sustainable. Consider buying second hand, gently used, or refurbished items to give them a new life. Consider gifts of self, like time spent together, treating them to a nice meal or a fun event. Consider buying local which cuts down on excess packaging and the gas and travel of delivery. Finally, if there is an item you genuinely want to buy for someone, think about the sustainability of that item, for example, a wooden children’s toy is more environmentally friendly than a plastic one.
Make your own wrapping paper or go without. Use newspaper, brown paper bags, old maps, or children’s artwork. Think about using a scarf, bandana, or towel to wrap presents in that is a gift in and of itself. I have a friend who doesn’t wrap her presents at all for her children and instead hides them around the house for a scavenger hunt. What a fun way to save on wrapping all together! If you are going to go the traditional wrapping paper route, consider buying recycled or compostable options. Also, most wrapping paper can be reused if it was not destroyed when unwrapped.
Food Waste is A Major Culprit
The holidays are a time for gathering with your friends and family around a table, treating yourself to classic comfort foods. But, unfortunately, the delight of a good meal is typically followed by a mountain of leftovers that often ends up in the trash. A couple of ways to avoid food waste at the holidays include planning a menu and more importantly sticking to it. Use this Guestimator to determine how much food you likely need for your event and buy only what you need.
If after all your best efforts there are leftovers, use the leftovers wisely. Send some home with guests (only if they genuinely want them), freeze others so they’ll last, and repurpose the rest. For example, leftover veggies and bones can be used to make stock or a soup of some kind. Finally, if all else fails, try composting.
Pandemic aside, when things are relatively back to normal, travel is still a major contributor to greenhouse gasses, especially at the rates it is done during the holiday season. I know we all want to be close to our loved ones, so if traveling is still going to happen, make conscious decisions in how you travel to minimize your carbon footprint and consider donating to offset your carbon footprint.
O, Christmas Tree O, Christmas Tree
This is always a big discussion, which is more environmentally friendly: a real tree or a fake one? To many the idea of reusing the fake tree year after year makes it seem like the clear choice … but you would wrong.
A real tree is your best option for the environment. Most Christmas trees are grown on tree farms and are not cut down from forests on a large scale. Tree farms replant trees after harvesting and buying a real tree keeps these farms in business which keeps their land protected with a healthy forest habitat that wildlife depends on to live. Real trees can also be composted after you are done with them. Many cities and towns run a tree composting service for free.
When it comes to fake trees, they are mostly made of plastic, manufactured in China, and shipped to the United States. Therefore, if you think about the pollution that springs from plastic production, packaging and shipping materials, the emissions of shipping, and the fact that they are not recyclable and often end up in landfills; a real Christmas tree that is composted when you are finished is the clear winner!
Don’t Waste Your Energy
Twinkling lights are another thing that make the holiday season so beautiful, but they also can use a lot of electricity. Remember that LED lights are going to be more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs—they can increase overall energy efficiency by 85%. They are more expensive, but they last for about 50,000 hours while traditional lights last only around 1,000. Also, don’t forget to put your lights on a timer and set them to go off at appropriate times so you aren’t wasting energy.
Remember, you can still have a lovely holiday season with all your favorite traditions while still making more responsible decisions for our environment.
What are some of your environment saving holiday tips? Let us know in the comments.