From LED Christmas lights to DIY wrapping paper, celebrate the holidays sustainably with these eco-friendly tips.
Ladies and gents, Mariah Carey has officially defrosted. That’s right, the holidays are right around the corner, which means inevitable food comas and the subsequent unbuttoning of pants await.
Whether you prefer to put up your Christmas decorations before you partake in a glorious Thanksgiving feast or after, you may already be starting to get into the festive, holiday spirit. (Hey, Alexa: play “All I Want for Christmas Is You” on repeat.)
Let your heart—and conscious—be light this holiday season by having yourself a sustainable merry little Christmas.
The environmental impact of the holidays
Before you embark on a gift shopping excursion, consider the environmental impact of the holiday season.
From gift exchanges and Christmas potlucks to family meals and work parties, we tend to generate a lot of waste during the winter months.
Just take into account Christmas cards alone. Approximately 2.65 billion of them are sold in the U.S. each year—enough to fill a football field 10 stories high!
A 2021 study found that the average American throws out about 43 percent more waste during the holidays (which amounts to an average of 29 pounds of trash per week).
What are the biggest sources of holiday waste? Wrapping paper, gift bags, gift boxes, tissue paper, and food waste ranked as the top offenders.
5 tips for a sustainable holiday
Worry not, it is possible to reduce your environmental impact while still celebrating your most treasured holiday traditions. From LED lights to DIY wrapping paper, celebrate sustainably with these eco-friendly tips.
1. Choose an eco-friendly Christmas tree
Whether you prefer to put up a real spruce or pine tree or an artificial tree, you may be wondering which option is the most sustainable. The latter—which is typically made from polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, a type of plastic—could take hundreds of years to break down when it inevitably makes its way to the landfill. When you take into account the carbon footprint of the production and transportation process, artificial trees are that much more unsustainable.
Granted, many choose to dispose of their real Christmas trees by throwing them out on the curb. But the carbon footprint of a 6.5-foot artificial tree is more than two times that of a real tree that goes to the landfill.
Now, if you already have an artificial tree, by all means, put it up. If you don’t, opt for a real tree that’s locally grown. If your city doesn’t offer treecycling services, you can replant it in your garden, use it as compost, or chop it for firewood when the holidays are over.
Want to skip purchasing a tree altogether? Check out these DIY Christmas tree alternatives, from photo collage and book trees to wood pallet and ladder trees.
2. Decorate responsibly
From shopping for plastic-free wooden or glass Christmas ornaments to making your own tree decorations out of twine, yarn, pine cones, and whatever else you have lying around your home—it’s easy to get into the sustainable holiday spirit.
For all of your lighting needs, opt for LED bulbs, which can be up to 80 percent more energy efficient than standard bulbs. With the help of a hot glue gun, old coat hangers, twigs, and pinecones, you can even make your own wreath! Here’s how.
3. Wrap sustainably
‘Tis the season to upcycle. Help reduce Christmas waste by opting for zero-waste gift wrapping. Decorative fabrics, pillowcases, or linen napkins, newspapers, old sweaters, and reusable bags make the perfect wrapping paper.
If you don’t have anything lying around, you can also shop at a thrift store for DIY wrapping alternatives or opt for buying wrapping paper that’s 100 percent recycled and recyclable.
4. Gift with the planet in mind
When gifting this season, choose quality over quantity. In lieu of tangible gifts, gift an experience for a memory that will last a lifetime. Buy tickets to a local concert, a good film, or a sporting event. Gift a day spent at a museum or animal sanctuary—the options are endless.
Oh, and be sure to nix paper card waste by sending out adorably festive e-cards via websites like Blue Mountain and Jacquie Lawson.
5. Tuck into a plant-based holiday feast
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the global livestock industry generates 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. So eat sustainably—and compassionately—this holiday season by forgoing animal products on your dinner plate.
Need help planning your plant-based holiday feast? International animal welfare non-profit The Humane League’s new Path to Plant Based starter guide has you covered. And for more tasty, vegan recipes, check out these savory dishes for a sustainable holiday spread.
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