It’s that time of year to celebrate winter, gather with family, friends and loved ones and think about all the good you’ll do in the new year. If you find yourself wondering how to be more environmentally conscious, then you can start even before the ball drops with a few of these simple tips that will help make your holiday season green and sustainable.
For many, the holidays are incomplete without the flickering warmth of candles. Whether you’re celebrating Kwanzaa or Hannukah, bringing in the new year or simply adorning the family table, consider using sustainable candles.
Whenever possible, avoid synthetic wax materials, as these often contain paraffin, a byproduct of crude oil. Instead, look for sustainably, responsibly sourced and produced beeswax, coconut wax, rapeseed wax or soy wax candles. These materials can be biodegradable and are far less likely to contain chemicals that leech out into the air as they melt.
Be sure the wicks are also sustainable! Look for materials such as cotton, hemp or wood. And consider candles that come in simple paper packaging to ensure your holidays are feeling environmentally friendly.
Nature provides beautiful ornaments and other holiday decorations, and you will find them quickly if you just go out and look! Gather branches, berries, flowers and leaves to arrange in tied clusters or homemade wreaths. Make your own ornaments by threading up pinecones, twigs or dried fruits and flowers. Be sure you have permission to collect your materials from the land.
Live in the city and not near an accessible woodland for plucking? No worries — try paper snowflakes this year! Use some leftover origami paper, newspaper, plain white printer paper or even old artwork and coloring pages. String up your creations on the tree, tape to your windows and even hang them from the ceiling lights or fans for a cheerful, more sustainable look.
Be sure to skip the tinsel and fake garlands, which are made of non-recyclable materials, and focus on obtaining reusable or decomposable decorations that will become part of your holiday traditions.
If there is one place in your traditions to go sustainable this year, the food is it! Eating sustainably and locally is not only cheaper, but also healthier and tastier, as the foods haven’t been on the shelf for very long. Start by shopping fresh —think local fruits, vegetables and grains— and avoiding pre-packaged, plastic-wrapped foods and drinks whenever possible; these items create a lot of waste and often include unnecessary preservatives.
Meats make up a big proportion of our carbon emissions, between preparing, shipping and storing. The holidays are a great time to try a non-meat meal, as so many hearty favorites are usually available to replace it: an extra dish of herbed mashed potatoes, steamed carrots, a fancy cheese board, fried mushrooms, warm garlic toast or even lasagna!
Use a fabric tablecloth instead of plastic, if one is needed. Serve your guests with re-usable or washable cups, plates and utensils. While it might mean an extra chore during the holiday, you can make it a family activity. Plus, it really helps with reducing trash in your landfills!
For many, setting up an evergreen is the focal point of their holiday season — but should we use a naturally harvested tree or a realistic replica tree?
In the U.S., millions of artificial trees are purchased every season. Most of them are shipped from across the globe, resulting in an increase of carbon emissions and industrial resources. The plastic or manmade materials they are made of — whose production also creates a lot of pollution — are not recyclable, so artificial trees will eventually end up in local landfills, even after many years of use.
A real or farm-raised cut tree actually supports sustainable forest management and helps combat climate change. The tree you pick is usually many years old, so it has been growing outside and cycling air and water for a while. And because there are usually many more trees left standing than those harvested for sale — out of the 350 million trees growing on farms across the U.S., only 30 million trees are cut down each year — buying a living tree helps keep many local tree farms in business, reducing global carbon emissions. Supporting these farms also helps maintain the land as a much healthier habitat than potential developments, since new seedlings are planted every year. So, by choosing a naturally harvested tree, we can help champion our environment and keep the holiday festive.
Be sure, however, to recycle or compost your tree after the holidays; many local towns and cities like Philadelphia host community collection events. And if you truly need an artificial yet very convenient tree, consider reusing it as many times as possible to cut down on plastic waste!
Experiences are truly the most green and sustainable gifts you can offer to your loved ones. A museum membership to the Academy, or any other institution, is also a gift that keeps on giving! For a full year, your favorite person can visit, learn, explore and discover more about the world around them, for free and with a lot of extra perks.
Also consider giving a ticket to a super-fun family event or science summer camp happening after the holidays! These gifts are not only sentimental (as your giftee gets to think of your kindness twice!), but also help keep our Earth a great place to live for everyone by reducing waste.
Need to get an actual gift this year? Put your arts-and-crafts skills to use and consider homemade: knit or crochet a hat and mittens or paint and color the family’s greeting cards. Edible gifts such as favorite sweets, baked goods, dried fruits, nuts, jams or fancy vinegars make wonderfully sustainable options, as long as they don’t come in plastic containers.
And be sure to choose “stocking stuffers” carefully. Some cheap, small, often plastic items may end up broken, forgotten, lost or tossed once the holiday season ends. These gifts are produced in factories that create a lot of waste and then ultimately end up in our landfills. If small gifts, holiday countdowns or stocking stuffers are important to your family, search for sustainable items produced locally that are consumable or could be reused for many years to come.
If you choose to wrap your presents, be sure to practice reuse! Last year’s paper, newspapers, children’s artwork or coloring pages, paper bags, unused fabric and even reusable bags make great options. As you create that festive feeling for a gift, avoid sparkles, glossy looks and metallic shimmers and stripes; these materials make the wrapping paper non-recyclable.