Often referred to as the most wonderful time of the year, the holidays can also be the most wasteful. The impact of the holidays on the environment can be enormous. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans generate about 1 million extra tons of household waste – an increase of 25 percent – between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. To keep your holiday carbon footprint in check, we’d like to share with you some tips for an eco-friendly holiday. In addition, adopt a mindset that includes an appreciation for the Earth and that guides your actions towards sustainability.
Meals and Entertaining
- Prepare meals using locally-grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables and locally produced items such as honey, cheeses, eggs and free-range poultry or meats.
- Use reusable tableware, not disposables.
- Replace the ready-made versions of items like cranberry sauce, gravy and pie crusts, with homemade creations.
- Learn about the sourcing of the spices you use. Issues that plague the industry include the use of pesticides, wasted water, loss of biodiversity, and fair-trade concerns. Check out the Sustainable Spices Initiative for more information.
- Choose organic or biodynamic wines and organic brews that are produced locally.
- Avoid individual water or soda bottles or cans. Make iced tea, eggnog or hot chocolate in large quantities and provide ice water in pitchers.
- Make use of leftovers. Use in casseroles, soups or broths, or donate them to a local food bank or shelter. Most food scraps that can’t be used otherwise can be composted.
- Use cloth napkins rather than paper and cloth tablecloths rather than paper or vinyl.
- Be green when you clean. Use all-natural household cleaners. Run dishwasher and washing machines and dryers only when you have full loads.
- Decorate with nature by opting for wood, burlap, or organic hemp or cotton fabrics. Bring the outside in by using pinecones, an abandoned nest, winter flowers, or make a wreath of pine boughs; they can all go back to your yard after the holidays.
- Invest in LED holiday lights to save both time and money for many years.
- Choose candles made from soy or natural beeswax rather than those made from petroleum-based paraffin wax.
- Boil the needles of pine, spruce or fir trees to fill your space with natural aroma and avoid artificial, chemically-based fragrances.
- If you put up a tree, choose wisely. Choose one that is indigenous to your area that you can replant after the holidays, or a cut tree grown on a local tree farm rather than taken from the forest.
- Recycle your tree into compost or mulch either at home or through programs that many communities offer. Or put the tree in a corner of your yard to convert it into wildlife habitat for birds, squirrels or chipmunks.
- Choose durable and meaningful ornaments made of sustainable materials, or make your own. Be creative and add to the traditional by incorporating items already in your home that have special meaning, which can go back to their designated spot after Christmas.
- Choose clothing gifts made from natural fabrics like organic hemp, organic cotton, wool and silk. For non-fabric gifts choose materials that are sustainable.
- Limit or avoid purchasing plastics in both the product itself and its packaging.
- Abandon useless trinkets and stuff stockings instead with natural treats like fruit, nuts and healthful teas.
- Shop for items that are locally grown or made or that are fair-trade and organic.
- Give your own creation – something you’ve knitted, sewn, painted, or baked.
- Consider giving the gift bare or make the wrapping part of the gift. Choose reusable bags or baskets, or wrap in a scarf, bandana, clothing item, blanket, throw or other reusable item.
- If you use holiday gift wrap, re-use wrap from previous holidays and make sure the wrap you use is recyclable. Use greeting cards from past years to make gift tags.
- Give gifts of experience like tickets to a ball game, concert, theater production, or favorite restaurant. They don’t need wrapping and don’t eventually face disposal. And these gifts are also opportunities for you to share time with a loved one.
- Give a gift that’s close to the heart of the recipient by making a donation in their honor to their favorite charity.
- Make a list and combine shopping trips. It will save you time, gas and money, and will lower the carbon emissions and pollution created by more driving.
- Shop in your local community.
- Reduce the need for travel by shopping online, and combine shipments when possible.
- Walk or bike to shopping/gatherings or carpool and use public transportation.
- If you’re driving to visit loved ones for the holidays insure that your vehicle is running as efficiently as possible. Have it serviced before your trip and be sure to have any oil or fuel leaks repaired. Properly inflate tires for the best gas mileage and therefore, lower emissions.
Turning focus to what the holidays mean to you and your loved ones can help avoid getting caught in the trap of expense, stress, and waste that can so easily steal the enjoyment of the season. As Henry David Thoreau advised, “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” As we are dependent on this beautiful planet for all that we need, it is dependent on us for its health and longevity. We encourage you to include compassion, appreciation and stewardship for the world around you as a part of your holiday celebration.