The holiday season has a huge impact on the environment. During the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans throw away 25% more trash. This amounts to 25 million tons of garbage, or a million extra tons each week.
By taking some extra steps this holiday season—from being more intentional about where we shop and what we buy to how we decorate for the holidays—we can all do our part to reduce the amount of trash that ends up in landfills and the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions we produce.
Read on for five ways to be more sustainable during the holiday season.
Black Friday is only one day, but in Great Britain alone, it causes 429,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (the equivalent of more than 400 flights from London to New York), according to Popular Science. A 2019 study also found that many gift items purchased on Black Friday are only used once or twice.
With those numbers in mind, you can be more intentional and sustainable with your gifts by:
- Shopping local and opting for slower shipping: Two-day shipping comes at an environmental cost. Shopping at local small businesses means you avoid GHG emissions from shipping your items quickly, and you can support businesses in your local community, too. If you do buy online, consider consolidating your orders and choosing a slower shipping option.
- Buying second-hand: Buying used items reduces waste and gives items a second life. Plus, you never know what unique vintage item you might find.
- Giving homemade: Making something yourself, like a piece of art, jewelry or even baked goods, is a fantastic way to give a unique gift with a personal touch without needing to buy something new.
- Going for the experience: You can also give the gift of an experience like a membership to a museum or tickets to local events and concerts. Non-physical gifts like these don’t require any packaging and don’t produce as much waste.
- Shopping sustainably: If you must buy new, try to buy from sustainable brands. Brands that are B Corporation Certified meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, according to B Lab, an organization that certifies B corporations. You can also opt for gifts that promote sustainability like reusable water bottles, mugs, totes and more.
Use Recycled or Reusable Packaging
Gift wrap accounts for millions of tons of waste in the United States each year, according to the Washington Post.
However, there are ways to wrap your gifts that are much better for the environment, including:
- Picking your gift wrap carefully: Choose recycled wrapping paper if buying new, or reuse wrapping paper from previous years to avoid contributing more trash to landfills. Many types of gift wrap, like those made with foil, plastic or glitter, can’t be recycled.
- Using reusable boxes or other materials: If you want to avoid gift wrap, you can also reuse materials like newspaper, magazine pages, decorative tins or even fabric to wrap your gifts.
- Reconsidering tape and ribbon: Ribbons and bows are not recyclable, and neither are most packing tapes. Consider other alternatives if you want to be more sustainable this holiday season. For example, you can try wrapping your gifts without tape.
Eat Sustainably to Reduce Food Waste
Food is the number one item thrown away nationwide, and about 26% of all global emissions come from food production.
With a few small tweaks, you can eat a little more sustainably this holiday season by:
- Prepping with a plan: You can stem food waste from the start. Consider how many guests you’ll have and plan accordingly for groceries and recipes, so you don’t end up with extra food. Trying an online tool like the Guestimator will help you determine how much food you really need to buy.
- Being smart about meat: Meat has a high carbon footprint. In fact, livestock and fisheries account for 31% of the emissions generated from food production. Therefore, limiting meat consumption during the holidays can be a more sustainable option. In addition, try to use as much of the food as you can with as little waste as possible by making stock from a turkey carcass, for example.
- Avoiding plastic plates and glasses: Choose your table settings carefully and use actual dishes and cutlery or paper plates instead of plastic as a plastic cup can take up to 450 years to degrade.
- Donating leftovers to a food pantry: When all is said and done, consider donating any leftovers to a local food pantry instead of tossing them in the trash.
Celebrate Our Planet with Sustainable Traditions
The holidays are a perfect time to start or continue sustainable traditions that put the focus less on material things like buying presents and more on spending time with family. Consider adding more sustainability into your holiday celebrations by:
- Going on a nature hike: Spend some time with loved ones and go on a waste-free walk through nature. Collect any litter or things you can recycle along the way (and take care not to contribute to any mess yourself).
- Traveling sustainably: When traveling, be considerate of the impact of air travel and try using public transportation or carpooling when possible to limit emissions from individual cars.
Spread Cheer with Sustainable Decorations
With their bright colors and twinkling lights, holiday decorations are the cherry on top of an already exciting and merry time. But just like with presents and food, there are ways to decorate more sustainably without sacrificing any of the festivity you’re used to.
This holiday season, consider decorating sustainably by:
- Buying energy-efficient lights: When buying holiday lights, opt for LED lights since they last up to 25 times longer and save at least 75% more energy than traditional lights. You can also consider switching to solar lights for any outdoor decorations. Make sure to turn off all lights during the day and when not in use to conserve energy.
- Skipping the tinsel: Avoid using tinsel since it’s not recyclable. Instead, opt for reusable or secondhand decorations or make something yourself using materials from nature, such as a wreath from branches in your backyard.
- Making edible ornaments: Here’s a fun tip from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation: Use seed bells, pinecones and some peanut butter to make your own DIY ornaments to hang around your yard to feed local wildlife. Then, watch as a family to see what types of animals come by for a bite.
Embrace Sustainability This Holiday Season
The holiday season is a traditionally wasteful period of the year, but together we can lessen the environmental impacts of our celebrations. Nobody can solve the climate crisis alone, but small efforts do add up, especially if more people participate.
By making a commitment to live more sustainably, buying used items (or reusing what you already have), choosing to spend money at companies focused on sustainability and planning better around large meals, we can all have a positive impact on the world we live in.