Ask Eartha: Is it possible to have a sustainable holiday? (column)
December 21, 2017
I love the holidays, but often it seems to be a time overloaded with waste! There's just so much "stuff." Do you have any ideas on how to be more sustainable around the holiday season?
I hope you're enjoying the season, Lance! I'm glad you asked about waste, because it is a growing concern this time of year. In fact, the average American family generates almost 25 percent more waste now than any other time of the year. As good stewards of the planet, we should all try to reduce that amount, shouldn't we? When decorating, making purchases, and gift giving, consider the following.
If giving and getting more “stuff” around the holidays feels a little overwhelming, think outside the box for gifts that have special meaning but don’t take up space. For example, consider gifting an experience like a nice dinner, theater or concert tickets, a membership of some sort, or an activity pass.
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Try to stay away from artificial trees, as they're usually shipped over from China, resulting in unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, go with a live tree in a pot, or a pre-cut tree. After the season, these can either be planted or made into mulch or compost. In Summit County, most municipalities provide free Christmas tree recycling through January. For locations and details on proper tree disposal, visit HighCountryConservation.org. Ornaments, lights and tinsel must be removed from the tree before drop off. And if you're still stumped about what type of tree to buy, I've written about the pros and cons of live versus fake trees in the past. Check out the Ask Eartha blog on HC3's website, and search "What are the environmental concerns for a real and a fake tree?"
For holiday lighting, practice energy efficiency by using strands that have LED bulbs or are solar powered — they'll last longer too. As for ornaments, just like artificial trees, these are usually made in China. Instead of decking your tree with cheap, plastic baubles, consider holiday decorations made from what you already have at home. Ornaments and garlands can be made simply by using dried apple and orange slices, popcorn and repurposed wine corks. Wreaths can be made out of recycled cardboard and cinnamon sticks or twigs and pinecones from your yard. Check out Pinterest for some great DIY ideas, and enjoy holiday togetherness by making decorations with your friends and family.
If giving and getting more "stuff" around the holidays feels a little overwhelming, think outside the box for gifts that have special meaning but don't take up space. For example, consider gifting an experience like a nice dinner, theater or concert tickets, a membership of some sort, or an activity pass. Another option is giving a charitable gift to an organization in your loved one's name. This form of giving is hugely impactful and is growing in popularity.
Something the Steward family tried last year was to draw names for a recipient. Then we each made a handmade gift from materials we already had around the house, such as homemade chocolates, herbal teas, wooden shelves, potholders, ear warmers, etc. This form of exchange proved to be truly exciting and more sustainable at the same time. You can also look for locally made gifts or gifts made of recycled materials.
If shopping online, use companies like AmazonSmile that donate a portion of their proceeds to organizations of the buyer's choice. Generally speaking, online shopping can reduce the carbon footprint of shopping. That is, however, if you do not get two-day or overnight shipping. When shipping is rushed like this, items may not be available from nearby distribution centers and must be sent from further away. And to meet these rush delivery deadlines, sometimes shipping trucks are sent out only half full. Given enough time, shipping carriers will find the most efficient way to deliver your packages. Sure, it may take longer for items to arrive, but will help keep our planet cleaner.
Now, once you have your gifts in hand, what about wrapping paper? Not all of it is recyclable, so wrapper beware. Avoid foil papers and those with metallic prints. Kraft brand paper is a great alternative to traditional wrapping paper, and you can use stamps to decorate it. And of course, newsprint is always a trusted option. Don't forget to save gift bags, tissue paper, and other wrapping materials for reuse.
The holidays are about spending time with family and celebrating community, but it's easy to get caught up in the economic machine at the same time. Slow down, and be conscious about your actions this holiday season. Consider the full impact of what you're doing, and make choices that deliberately conserve resources, reuse material, contribute to social well-being and improve your community. This way, you will have succeeded in achieving a more sustainable holiday experience.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.