How to Have a Sustainable Holiday Season
Between Thanksgiving and New Year, Americans throw away 25% more trash than any other time of the year. The extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage or about 1 million extra tons per week! This trash either ends up dumped in our oceans or rotting away in a landfill, releasing the potent greenhouse gas, methane, in the process. All of this waste turns “the most wonderful time of the year” into the most harmful for the planet. But we can still keep many of our beloved traditions while treading lighter on the Earth (and even save some money!) with these sustainability tips.
With the often inevitable stress that the holidays bring, many wellness experts suggest pausing and taking a minute to breathe. It’s these quiet moments that are key to becoming more eco-friendly! It’s in those pauses that you can stop and consider, “Do I need this?,” “Is this the best choice?”, “What might be a better option?” Those answers might not always be so clear cut but, by you trying, they will certainly become greener.
2. Consider Your Food Choices
Thanksgiving is about giving thanks but it’s also about gorging ourselves on copious amounts of delicious food. As you prepare for your meal, are there any products that you can buy from local farms? If it’s local that means that it didn’t need to travel far on emissions-spewing trucks to get to you. How about organic? And try to find a turkey that’s labeled “pasture-raised,” “free-range,” or “certified humane.”
Even if you were to do all this, the biggest problem comes if you throw any leftovers away. The UN has found that if food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions after China and the US. That’s because when waste gets buried in landfills, there is no oxygen to properly decompose it, not even biodegradable items like food. So they end up releasing methane as they break down. To avoid this, try to hone in on just how much food you actually need with a meal plan and then, with whatever is left, make creative leftovers like casseroles and soups. Freeze what you don’t feel like eating right away and compost the rest.
3. Black Friday weekend
Psychologically, we get played by companies with their claims of “limited time!” “This won’t last!” We fall prey to their time-sensitive deals. And, because of that, we so often buy things that we never really needed or wanted and just generally overbuy because “it was a steal.” This is an ideal moment to pause and ask yourself, “Do I really need this? Is there a better option?” This overconsumption has huge negative effects on the environment- from the raw materials that need to be extracted to make the things, the emissions for their transport, and the waste that gets created when still-in-good-condition items get sent to the landfill. Some tips to keep your environmental impact down is to buy only what you need, choose more ethical companies, and purchase eco items such as a microplastic filter for your washer.
The most eco-friendly thing you can do is use what you already have. But, if you need some new items, consider buying secondhand. Brick-and-mortar and online shops have really great options (for cheap!). As for lighting, use LED bulbs and solar-powered outdoor lights. Don’t forget to unplug it all when you go to bed.
5. Christmas tree
There’s a lot of gray area in the real versus fake debate so you can look at it this way:
Good choice: You can make buying a plastic artificial tree a good choice if you commit to keeping it for 10+ years. The longer you have it, the lesser its negative carbon footprint. If you have one but want a new one, sell it so that someone else can continue its life cycle.
Better choice: Though people worry that having a real tree is contributing to deforestation, that’s actually not the case. Christmas trees are grown on farms, often with one or more replanted in their place. Also, as they grow, they clean the air, stabilize the soil, and provide habitat. Buy a real tree from the closest tree farm possible (the further away, the more emissions used to get to you) BUT commit to recycling it. Many towns or local organizations offer this service to turn your old trees into mulch (be sure to remove any tinsel and glitter).
Best choice: Buy a real tree with its root ball still attached and replant it on your property. There are now even companies that rent you the tree and take it back after the holiday to re-rent next year.
6. Gift Giving
This goes back to overconsumption. To avoid more STUFF, which eventually becomes waste, consider getting something that is special and/or has staying power (for example, not a fad). Some ideas include movie tickets, spa certificates, museum memberships, plants, restaurant certificates, fun classes, photo albums, chore help, things with a story, eco-friendly items, or items from companies that donate some of their profits to great causes. Also, buy local, secondhand, or create homemade.
7. Holiday cards
Cards with glitter, metallic foil, or photos are not recyclable. Save these pretty fronts and use them as postcards next year. Or, better yet, send an e-card to your loved ones. These are always more fun because you can give an update about your year, including multiple photos, and will often receive lovely responses in return.
8. Wrapping paper
See if the paper is recycled and/or recyclable. Like cards, it can’t be recycled if it has metallic foil or glitter on it. You can also do the scrunch test. If you can scrunch the paper into a ball and it stays that way, you can recycle it. Plain tissue paper can be composted. Save bows and ribbons to be reused. Instead of traditional wrapping paper, reuse magazines, paper bags, newspapers, old maps, old fabric, reusable tins, baskets, or boxes.
9. Offset holiday travel
Air and car travel are unavoidable for some. Buy carbon offsets to mitigate their emissions impact. Carbon offsets are projects designed to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store it. Common projects include reforestation, building renewable energy, carbon-storing agricultural practices, and waste and landfill management. Some airlines give you the option to buy them through their sustainability programs and there are many online companies and nonprofits who also offer them.
10. Get cuddly
Cuddle up in a cozy sweater with warm socks and turn your thermostat down. For every one degree you go down, you are greatly reducing the excessive emissions that cause climate change emissions from going into the air.
We, as individuals, have so much power to create a healthier and more humane world and there’s no better time to start than the holiday season when our impact can be greatest. Let’s finish this year empowered and be ready to make even more eco-conscious choices in the New Year. May this season bring you so much peace and joy.