Written by Taylor Templer, West Central Coordinator
For many of us, the holiday season is about spending time with family and friends and celebrating tradition, but some of those traditions increase consumption and waste, which decreases sustainability. Environmental sustainability is conserving our natural ecological balance by ensuring our natural resources are replenished and maintained for future generations. Here are some things you can do to make your holiday traditions a little more sustainable.
When it comes to decorating for the holidays, use what surrounds you. If you are in a rural setting, take a walk, gather cedar or pine branches, these can be used to make wreaths, pots, or simply placed in a vase of water for a natural centerpiece that will fill your home with a pleasant aroma. If your family’s tradition is to get a tree, think about getting a live tree. A tree that still has the root ball attached, can be planted and enjoyed long after the holidays are over. If this isn’t an option for you, harvest a tree native to your area that was naturally grown or grown at a tree farm, without pesticides or chemical colorants. Ask your local tree farm about their growing practices, and assure them that you can live with an imperfect tree if it means cutting down on chemicals. Most tree farms plant 1-3 trees for every tree that is cut down, so it is a very sustainable option. The variety of tree is your preference but some trees grow faster than others, so it is better to harvest a fast-growing variety. I prefer the Eastern Red Cedar because in my area these trees are abundant, grow fast, and because of the absence of natural occurring fire, they are taking over our native prairies. It is also important that if you do get a real tree to make sure that it is properly recycled to make mulch or wood chips or put back into the woods to allow natural decomposition to occur, instead of being tossed into the landfill. Speaking of the landfill, artificial trees have a typical lifespan of 6-10 years in the home but do end up in the landfill eventually, where they can last an eternity. Artificial trees are made of metal and plastics made from petroleum and are usually manufactured oversees, making their environmental footprint very large. When decorating your tree try using renewable materials such as orange slices, cinnamon sticks, paper stars, popcorn strings, pine cones, or wooden ornaments. Save money and energy by using LED lighting instead of conventional lighting and use a timer to ensure the lights are off during the day. If your holiday lights no longer work, don’t throw them in the trash, recycle them.
Gift giving is a special way to celebrate the ones you care for, a way of showing thoughtfulness, love and affection. Think carefully about the gifts you will be giving; instead of quantity, think quality. Less is always more. Gift your loved ones with an experience or something intangible such as a donation to a charity or organization they support. Handmade gifts are also an excellent way to lower consumption while giving more meaning to the gifts you’re giving. If making things is not your cup of tea or you simply don’t have the time, try buying gifts with minimal packaging, lasting durability, and sustainable materials. Shop at small businesses and support your local economy. Fill stockings with locally made gifts, books, and healthy treats like fruit, jerky, and nuts.
Wrap your gift with love. Gift wrapping is used once, torn off, and tossed in the trash. All wrapping with foil and glitter on them can’t be recycled. When wrapping gifts this holiday, try to use fabrics, old newspaper, children’s art, scarves, paper bags, or plain paper wrapping that can be recycled. Instead of using sticker gift tags, try cutting tags out of cardboard or card stock and decorate them yourself. Instead of using plastic bows, use ribbon or twine that can be reused, and add fresh cut herbs, cinnamon sticks, or pine cones for more decoration.
While baking for the holidays, heat up the oven for more than just one baked good, try to do all of your holiday baking at once to conserve energy. Buy baking ingredients in bulk to cut down on packaging waste. Share the baked goods in reusable tins or recyclable boxes, instead of plastic bags, plastic wrap, or tinfoil. While hosting your holiday meal use washable glassware rather than using disposable napkins, plates, utensils, and cups. Reduce food waste by only cooking what you know will be used and compost what is not. Source your food locally, Minnesota Grown is a great resource to find locally produced food for your holiday meals. Avoid buying food with single-use packaging, and buy in bulk whenever possible.
Many people travel during the holidays, whether it is for shopping, visiting relatives, or going on vacation, we are travelling more than ever before. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Make up for holiday travel by purchasing renewable energy credits or carbon offsets. A variety of companies will help you calculate your footprint and invest in forest conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy to reduce your impact. Planting trees absorbs carbon dioxide which improves air and soil quality, creates jobs, preserves biodiversity, and improves habitats. Purchasing carbon offsets can reduce the impact of travel without sacrificing your ability to visit the people and places you love on the holidays.
This holiday season I challenge you to make sustainable choices when you are decorating, choosing gifts, preparing food, and traveling to ensure the health of our environment for future generations. If this seems overwhelming and not possible, start small, one minor change is better than nothing at all. Happy Holidays!
What YES! teams are doing to go green for the holidays:
- Collecting holiday lights at their schools to keep them out of the landfill
- Making homemade gifts such as beeswax lip balm to educate on pollinator importance
- Making beeswax food wraps to reduce the use of tinfoil and plastic wrap
- Making reusable wrapping using fabric to reduce single-use waste
- Baking homemade treats instead of purchasing pre-packaged goods
Encourage environmental sustainability by supporting YES! this holiday season!
Major funding for the YES! program was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).