Thanksgiving behind us, Hanukkah upon us and Christmas and New Year’s just ahead: November to January can feel overwhelmingly joyous and simply overwhelming all at once. Our to-do and to-buy list grows to epic proportions as we prepare to host or attend countless shindigs with family and friends. We get time off work to gather with and show gratitude to the people we love most with presents, food and over-the-top flashing lights. The only problem is we often do this at the expense of mother earth and our bank accounts.
Increases in trash, energy usage and fossil fuel emissions are among the leading causes of environmental harm during the holiday season. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Americans throw away about 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve than on average—eek. One time use wrapping paper, throw away plastics, increased transportation and excessive food waste are among the major culprits of environmental harm.
Rather than accepting the tradition of accidental waste, let’s create sustainable holiday rituals this year.
Decorations are—dare I say—sinfully wasteful albeit a gorgeous and non-negotiable part of holiday season. What would holiday season be without strings of flashing lights, larger-than-life trees, menorahs, fireworks and lawn sculptures? A holiday season without decorations is like the Superbowl without a half time show. Simply put, we cannot have one without the other but we can decorate a bit more sustainably.
1. Light Up Responsibly – The CDC recommends considering few or no lights to reduce energy waste. A nice thought, but if you think holiday lighting is the best thing since sliced bread, may we recommend LEDs. LEDs are exponentially more efficient, especially when plugged into a timer to ensure they are not running overnight. The switch to LED timed lighting will reduce energy waste and save money on the electricity bill.
2. Grass Roots Decorations – Before rushing out to the nearest Hobby Lobby or Home Depot for holiday season decorations, try using natural materials from the yard or other household items. This DIY approach to décor has the benefit of saving money and bringing families together for some serious bonding time. Check out Pinterest for countless inspirational DIY nuggets like vintage apron tree skirts, cookie cutter ornaments and mason jar-everythings.
3. Mindful Tree Selection – Every year, 95 million American families put up a Christmas tree. Approximately 80% are artificial while the remaining 20% are real. Both options impact the environment due to the materials, manpower and transportation required to bring these trees to your doorsteps. They are especially harmful when we toss out the old and buy a new tree each year. So, which option is best for the earth and your wallet?
If you are one of those, I need my house scented with natural pine and I will not give up this inalienable right—have at it. Naturally grown trees are not the worst for the environment, but don’t toss them in the dumpster at the end of the season. Instead, schedule a pick-up with one of the 4,000 local Tree recycling programs in the US.
If you are satisfied with good ole’ fashioned pine scented candles, may we recommend a reusable, artificial tree instead? According to an article in the LA Times, artificial trees are more sustainable than real trees if we re-use them for approximately 6-9 years. Reusing an artificial tree and avoiding the yearly drive over to the local farm means time, money and gas saved. We vote artificial tree for the win.
American families will each spend on average $885 on presents this holiday season. The art of gift giving starts with several trips to the mall, proceeds with taking home plastic bags containing throwaway packages and ends with copious amounts of unsustainable gift-wrap. Not to mention (again), but gift giving is expensive! Consider this: Buy fewer gifts and wrap them responsibly. If every family wrapped three gifts in sustainable materials, we could save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. Check out a few gift-giving and wrapping hacks that will help save money and resources.
1. Shop Local or Online – Avoid wasting gas, burning fossil fuels and driving back and forth to the mall for gifts you forgot from the previous week. Stop taking home more and more plastic bags filled with budget breaking goods. Instead write down a master list of giftees, consider cutting the list by a few, then pack the trunk full of reusable bags and head out to the local shops. This shorter trip will save money, gas and the headache of a hideously packed shopping center. As a bonus, find unique gifts that are hand-made, recyclable, energy efficient, organically grown and support the local economy.
Rather skip the stores and stay home instead? We like that option too. Order sustainable, handmade gifts online and avoid plastic bags altogether. Better yet, focus on gifts that don’t need wrapping, or won’t get shoved in a basement or thrown in the trash. Instead, seek out services like tickets to a local theatre, concert or sporting event. Purchasing class passes to learn new skills, like cooking, wood craft or painting. These gifts can save money and gas.
2. Not all Gifts Need a Receipt – Homemade gifts are totally underrated, inexpensive and very green. Try baking, building, gluing or sewing this year. Homemade gifts can be anything from festive cookies and artful collages to baby blankets and scarves. Hand crafted presents have the bonus of coming from your heart, blood, sweat and tears—along with bragging rights of course.
Not exactly Martha Stewart? Me neither, but hey it’s an option.
3. Always Wrap Responsibly – Put down the shiny roll of paper with its mesmerizing glitter-filled snowflakes. Think creative materials for gift wrap instead. Here’s what the CDC recommends as wrapping paper alternatives.
- Old maps, sheet music, magazine paper or newspaper paper.
- Homemade cards from paper at home.
- Better yet, send an e-card!
- Last year’s tissue paper and gift bags—always re-use.
- Go paperless—dare we say it.
Food trash and throwaway plastics can turn holiday parties into epically wasteful events. In a country where free time is hard to come by, we understand that individually packaged food and beverages are extremely convenient, but inexpensive and earth friendly methods exist. Do your best to keep food and decor purchases sustainable, organic and local. Then, feel good knowing that your perfectly planned feasts and gifts are built on renewable resources.
1. Pot Luck and Prosper – Before stocking the fridge with countless bottles and bags of frozen treats, consider a few options to lighten the load and save money in the process. Buy ingredients in bulk from your local wholesaler and make a few big, easy, delicious casseroles and punches. Then, let the party goers do the rest.
May we recommend something called a potluck party, where hosts encourage guests to bring a side dish, desert, drink AND Tupperware of their own. This means everyone takes leftovers, and no food waste is left behind. Not to mention, pot lucks save time, money and energy doing all the prep and cleanup.
2. Organize a White Elephant Exchange – Stop the gift giving madness, will you! As we have so eloquently noted, gifts can be a huge waste of time, money and fossil fuels. They are certainly a staple of holiday season, but let’s dial it back shall we? Instead of hosting or attending parties, where gift giving extends from mom to second cousin twice removed, why not suggest a White Elephant Gift exchange game instead?
White Elephant gift exchange requires only one (yes one!) gift per person and serves as a crowd-pleasing form of entertainment. Under the rules of this game, each participant picks a gift, opens it in front of the crowd, then waits to see if someone will steal it in exchange for their own. The stakes are high, the investment is low.
3. No more plastic! – We understand that throwaway utensils, plates and bowls are also extremely convenient, especially for cleanup purposes. We also know that glassware is much more sustainable and cost effective when considering the price tag of some of those handy throwaways.
Using glassware and metal utensils will also motivate party goers to be more conscious of their whereabouts. Rather than setting their plastic fork and plate down mindlessly, only to replace them with a new set minutes later, party goers will hold on to their precious glass cups and reuse them throughout the night. Cleanup may still be annoying, so consider asking for help at the sink. No one should have to dish wash alone.
Have fun, appreciate family, love the planet, and save money: That’s what we are all about this greener holiday season.
Article Credit: Elena Schmidt