Ask Eartha: How can I be more environmentally conscious this holiday season?

Allie Flynn
Ask Eartha

Dear Eartha, I get a little geeked out during the holidays and want to do it all — the decorating, the cooking, the gift wrapping… is there anything I can do to be more sustainable with my traditions?

Can you believe it? It’s already that time of year when everything smells like pumpkin spice and holiday music follows you to the most unsuspecting places. I’m thrilled to hear that community members are seeking ways to stay sustainable during the holidays. Furthermore, will our friends and family notice our efforts and apply some of these methods to their own holiday get-togethers?

American household waste increases more than 23% during the holiday season, which is mind-boggling, but not surprising. After years of watching my own family (sorry, family) create holiday waste — from food, to wrapping paper, to disposable decorations — it’s comforting to know that there are resources available to help us all cut back on waste.

Diversify decorations

If you’re like me and you lack storage space, or maybe you’re tired of using the same decorations year after year, opting for natural decor can bring a whole new vibe to your humble abode. Plus, most natural decorations can be tossed back outside or composted once the holiday has passed. For Thanksgiving, consider decorating with pumpkins, squash or fall foliage. For holidays in December, use pine tree branches, pinecones or dried orange garlands. Not only can you keep this stuff out of the landfill, you can compost squash, orange peels and any other food through Summit County’s free Food Scrap Program!

Let’s talk lighting. After all, energy waste is still waste. LED bulbs use at least 75% less energy and last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. If you haven’t already upgraded your holiday lighting to LED, now is a great time to do so. The Summit County Resource Allocation Park (SCRAP) accepts electronic waste, including string lights, for proper recycling year round — free to Summit County residents!

Mindfully manage meals

As your holiday feast nears, consider how you can plan for just the right amount of leftovers. Make a grocery list and opt for products in easy-to-recycle containers. Go with glass for things like cooking oils or salad dressings. Choose cans for soft drinks or other beverages. You might also purchase your produce loose instead of bagged, and you may even (bonus points) skip the produce bags altogether!

As far as your dinnerware goes, it’s the 21st century, folks — stop using disposable plates, napkins, silverware, and cups! I know doing dishes isn’t our favorite holiday activity, but creating a bunch of waste shouldn’t be either. Swap out disposable paper napkins for fun, fall bandanas that can be easily thrown in the washing machine. Don’t want to deal with all the silverware? Put a Colorado spin on things and use camping sporks that you gift to party-goers. And if you must use disposable cups, opt for aluminum, which can be used more than once and recycled easily.

Don’t forget to properly store any leftovers, and compost your food scraps!

Get gifts for good

In the spirit of sustainable gift giving, think about the resources used for the gifts you give. When you buy gifts made locally, you’re reducing emissions used to transport goods, and you might even be supporting your neighbor. Do your best to avoid products made outside of the U.S. and again, consider the packaging. Gifting experiences is another great way to cut back on gift emissions. Fortunately, from concerts to art classes to everything in between, we have lots of great experiences to gift right here in the county.

As far as how you wrap your gift, go for reusable or recyclable materials like fabric, paper bags, maps, or newspapers. Challenge your family and friends to do the same and make it a ritual each year — points for creativity!

Finally, don’t forget to recycle right. Familiarize yourself and your family with Summit County recycling guidelines and make sure everyone understands what is and isn’t recyclable. Encourage your friends and family to reduce waste during the holidays and take advantage of the various recycling programs in the county.

Allie Flynn

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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