The winter season is full of holidays and festivities, but amid the merriment, sustainability tends to fall by the wayside. Here are some ways to mitigate your environmental impact during the holidays while still having fun:
Buy nothing new
The first rule of sustainability is don’t buy anything new, so if you’re looking for a simple way to be more sustainable this holiday season, just avoid buying new decorations. Instead, use decorations from previous years that are still in good condition, or get crafty and make your own.
Paper snowflakes are a fun winter activity and make great homemade decorations. Get extra crafty this year by making your paper snowflakes out of recycled paper - save some old tests or worksheets from your winter break binder cleanout to use (colorful ones are even better).
Nature provides some of the best decorations – by collecting some pine cones and branches you can make a beautiful centerpiece, and you can even try making your own wreath.
As the sun sets earlier, lights tend to go on earlier as well. Rather than flipping on all the lights as soon as the sun sets, try lighting some candles instead – this not only saves electricity but also adds to the cozy winter atmosphere of your holiday festivities.
As much fun as it is to go all out when decorating with lights, take a more minimalist approach, and try to stick to a few thoughtfully placed strings of lights. You can also find solar powered string lights at Home Depot or other gardening stores, but while these are more sustainable in the long run, they’re still new decorations, so remember not to go overboard with your purchases.
If you’re planning on hosting a holiday party, try to use reusable plates, cups, utensils, and napkins – even better if you can serve handheld foods. If you need dining ware but don’t have the time to wash everything, at least make sure it’s compostable. Metal cups are great for parties since they don’t break like glass, so if you can, invest in a set.
Keep containers in your car
Maybe you’re more interested in enjoying parties than planning them. If this is the case, you’ve probably been in this situation – the party’s winding down, people are leaving, but there’s still an abundance of delicious food left, and the host kindly offers to give you some of the leftovers. Not wanting the food to go to waste, you take some, only to create a different kind of waste, one of plastic baggies and aluminum foil. You can easily avoid this problem by keeping a few reusable containers in your car – that way if you’re offered leftovers, you don’t have to choose between food waste and plastic waste.
Making a gingerbread house can be a festive winter activity, but if you’ve ever tried eating it, you probably know they always look way better than they taste. So rather than buying a shiny new gingerbread house kit from the store, why not use what you already have – old graham crackers or other cookies, leftover Halloween candy, frosting, etc. – and then buy additional materials if needed. You can also cut up cardboard boxes to use instead of graham crackers, which makes for a sturdier house.
Less is more
The thrill of opening present after present can be fun in the moment, but all too often, the majority of these presents is things we really don’t need, or worse, don’t even want. This is wasteful, so if you’re not sure what to get someone – ask! They’ll be happier because they’ll be getting something they really want, and you’ll be happier because you’ll know your money isn’t going to waste! Likewise, make your own wish list and share it with your friends and family, or if you feel like it, let them know that you really don’t need gifts (make sure they know you’re serious, as many people will still get you gifts to be polite).
Choose local or homemade
If you have a lot of people to get gifts for, online shopping can make things a lot easier. However, the shipping, packaging, and mass production that comes with most online shopping creates a huge carbon footprint. Find a few local businesses where you can buy unique gifts (used bookstores like The Last Bookstore in Downtown, or craft fairs like Unique Market on December 14th and 15th are a great place to start). If you have time, make something yourself! Receiving a handmade gift is always a great feeling – it shows that the person cares, and it’s not something you could just go online and buy yourself.
Use newspaper, shoe boxes, or paper bags from the grocery store to package and wrap presents. Get your whole family on board – you can even make it a challenge to see who can come up with the most creative eco-friendly wrapping. However, if you can’t get everyone involved, be sure to save any bags, wrapping paper, or tissue paper you do get to use for future gifts (next year’s holidays or birthdays in between).
As you’re enjoying the festivities this season brings, keep these tips in mind and have a fun, green holiday season!