After what seems like a simultaneously long and short year, the holiday season is finally here! This is a time for celebrations and gift-giving, but it’s easy to indulge while relaxing into our seasonal habits. Whether it’s mindless gift-giving, food waste, or unsustainable gift-wrapping, we should recognize that these are habits we can - and should - break out of. In the warm holiday spirit, here are a few tips on how to have a more sustainable holiday season!
1. Gift quality over quantity
Shopping for gifts for loved ones is one way to spread joy in the festive season. However, it's important to step back and reflect on the consumeristic practices that may be driving waste and overspending. In fact, think about the gifts you've received over the years - what distinguished between the gifts you truly valued and the gifts you tossed aside? Was more thought was put into it? Or was it of higher quality?
So for this year, try shopping with the intention to purchase meaningful quality gifts that are long-lasting, rather than ones that are disposable. As an alternative, try handmade gifts (like candles, bath bombs, or some Christmas cookies), sending e-cards, or even making a phone call. Lastly, in the spirit of giving, you can consider gifting an experience to a loved one by donating to a cause they care about on their behalf.
2. Buy living Christmas trees, not artificial ones
At first glance, artificial Christmas trees may seem like a more sustainable choice, compared to cutting down a new tree every year. In reality, though, artificial trees can be reused for a few years, but they're not recyclable when ultimately disposed of, which creates an immense amount of plastic waste. So, buying (or renting) living trees is more eco-friendly, but be sure to get them from sustainable tree farms.
3. Be realistic with holiday meals
Food waste is an increasingly important issue year-round, but it’s magnified during the holidays. In fact, Zero Waste Canada estimates that each Canadian throws out about 50 kilograms of garbage over the holidays - that’s about 25% more than the rest of the year. All hope is not lost. For starters, be realistic with the foods you buy, and cook only what will be consumed. Seeking out plant-based dishes and meats like poultry is also a great way to experiment with new dishes as well as reduce your carbon footprint. Lastly, as tempting and convenient as it is, avoid using paper plates and plastic forks - it all just ends up in the landfill.
4. Switch to LED holiday lights
Nothing says Christmas during a pandemic more than the festive outdoor lights. But, the consequences of these bright lights are truly blinding. In fact, the holiday glow can now be seen from space (see satellite image below of the southeastern U.S. with holiday lights showing as green dots). According to the Universities Space Research Association, North American cities are 20-30% brighter during this time of year, and it’s directly explained by decorations in residential areas. We make an effort to turn off the lights when they're not in use during the year, yet these lights are kept on for hundreds of hours during the holidays, resulting in wasteful burning of energy. As a more sustainable way to put up holiday lights, switch to LED, which consumes only 10% of the power used by incandescent lamps while also lasting 10 times longer with an operating life of over 20,000 hours. Although this is not 100% eco-friendly, this simple switch will definitely help reduce energy waste and light pollution.
5. Use eco-friendly gift wrap
Although shiny bows and glitter wrapping paper look great on gifts, they create enormous amounts of holiday waste. Traditional wrapping paper is typically not recyclable because of the dyes and inks it contains. Rather than the glittery rolls, try using brown craft paper or newspaper, which can be recycled or reused. According to the Recycling Council of British Columbia, if every Canadian wrapped three gifts using reused paper or gift bags, “it would save enough paper to cover every hockey rink in Canada". The next time you shop for gift wraps, it’s best to steer clear of ones decorated with foil and glitter.
The festive season is all about spreading joy and cheer, but it’s important to be aware of the seasonal habits that may be of detriment to the environment. Breaking out of these seasonal habits may be daunting at first, but making small changes like purchasing quality gifts, buying living Christmas trees, being realistic with holiday meals, switching to LED holiday lights, and using eco-friendly gift wrap are small simple steps that will lead to a more sustainable holiday season.
Thank you for reading, and we wish you a warm and happy holiday season! If you enjoyed this article, feel free to read more on our blog at https://www.pitchitgreen.org/blog and follow us on our social media.