When it comes to living more sustainably, many of us focus on our everyday choices and routines while neglecting the impact of major events, i.e. the holidays.
Every year, the holidays wreak havoc on our efforts to be less wasteful. From the extra energy used by Christmas lights, to the trash produced from gift wrapping, shipping, and disposable decor, to the millions of pounds of food bought to fill the dinner table (much of which gets left uneaten) the holidays have become a season of unnecessary waste. Luckily for us, the easiest place to start tackling this problem is right inside the comfort of your own home.
How can I make the holidays more sustainable?
There are tons of steps you can start taking right now to greet the season in greener fashion. Here are some tips specific to your at-home holiday experience:
The United States alone uses 6.63 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity every year just to power Christmas lights. Just imagine where else all that energy could be put to use!
To combat excessive energy use:
- Purchase LED string lights, which use 95% less electricity than traditional Christmas lights.
- Ensure your lights are off when you go to bed (there are timers which can do this for you automatically so you don’t forget).
- Decorate with organic and biodegradable materials like popcorn, cranberries, or foliage which use no energy and will easily decompose.
In addition to lights, if your family puts up Christmas trees, steer clear of artificial trees, which end up in landfills and will never decompose. Here in the Western half of the US, wildfires are a constant concern, but harvesting your own Christmas tree from the local forest can help mitigate fires by removing excess fuel! Plus, helping protect your community from fires is well worth the extra time and effort. You can purchase a Christmas tree cutting permit from recreation.gov.
Make Your Holiday Zero Waste
Greeting cards, gift wrapping, and shipping packaging might seem innocuous, but it all adds up exponentially—Americans throw away 25% more trash from Thanksgiving to New Years than the rest of the year, amounting to an extra 25 million tons of trash. Small choices can cut these numbers back significantly, such as:
- Send e-cards instead of greeting cards, or just make a phone call!
- Use alternative gift wrapping, such a reused or recycled wrapping paper, newspapers/magazine pages, or fabric (or try one of the alternative gift-giving options listed below).
- Reuse bows, ribbons, and gift bags year-on-year
- Save and reuse shopping bags on your multiple gift-buying trips.
Keep it Green Under the Tree
Contrary to what we’ve been taught, the best gifts aren’t always things, especially things that weren’t wanted in the first place (and end up in the trash). Why not get creative with our gift-giving? Here are some ideas for gifts that won’t make it to the landfill:
- Something edible! Homemade baked goods are a heartfelt and environmentally-friendly gesture—just be sure to give them in a recyclable/reusable container.
- Regifting: is there something in your house you no longer need that you know they could use? From a good sweater to a trusty crockpot, consider passing down what you already have for a gift that’s infinitely more personal.
- Soaps, candles (not in jars), bouquets: pleasant gifts that eventually disappear/compost and leave no trace.
- Memberships, subscriptions, tickets etc: never dismiss the value of an experience you know they would enjoy.
Opt For an Eco-friendly Dinner Table
Last but certainly not least is the food we feast on. Holidays revolve around food, but over-serving and buying food that traveled across the globe to reach our plates can have a massive environmental impact. Reduce that impact easily:
- Minimize food waste: only prepare as much food as you know will be consumed.
- Buy local: purchasing food that was raised in your region cuts emissions that would otherwise be used to ship it from another continent. Plus, it supports your local farmers and economy!
- Don’t use disposable kitchenware: while disposable plates and cutlery might be convenient for clean up, they’re unnecessary and quickly create a ton of trash. If needed, you can ask your guests to bring their own plates!
Sustainable Holidays Are Possible
It doesn’t take much to turn a traditionally wasteful time of year into something beautiful, celebratory, and eco-friendly all at once. Holidays revolve around our homes, and small choices can help ensure that this season, your house is a safe haven of sustainability. Happy Holidays!