This year, give the gift of an eco-friendly holiday
The holidays and end-of-year celebrations are a lot of fun — whether you’re visiting with friends and family or getting some much-needed downtime — but the commercialization and grandeur of these traditions can contribute enormous amounts of food and material waste. However, there are ways to enjoy the celebrations while cutting back on your environmental footprint.
During the holidays, the disposal of food and gift-wrap materials adds an extra 1 million tons of waste into our landfills per week, according to the EPA. And during that stretch from Thanksgiving to the New Year, Americans throw away 25 percent more trash than usual, according to Stanford University’s recycling program.
Small, collective efforts can go a long way in reducing this waste, though. For example, if every family in America wrapped three presents in reused materials — like old newspapers — the paper saved would cover 45,000 football fields.
For folks wanting to have a lighter footprint this holiday season, here are a few tips from experts. Korri Ellis, Environmental Education Alliance board president-elect and sustainability coordinator at The Paideia School, has these four suggestions for reducing material waste:
- Buy your gifts second-hand, including electronics. If you’re in the market for a new phone or your kid wants a gaming console, check to see if you can find a refurbished device.
- Give the gift of time and experiences rather than objects.
- Save your gift bags and bows for next year.
- Buy a live Christmas tree from your region rather than an artificial one. Bonus points if you break it down into wood chips at the end of the season.
But what if you’re buying sustainably but still don’t know what to do with the string of lights that stopped working? Look here for what to do with those tricky holiday materials:
- Send your old string lights to holiday LEDS for recycling and receive a coupon for a new set.
- Head over to CHaRM, a drop-off facility for hard-to-recycle materials.
- Take the non-glittery gift wrap to the recycling bin. (Wrapping with sparkles or velvet, and shiny bows can’t be recycled. Adding them to the bin will divert the whole load into the landfill.)
- Turn your Christmas tree into mulch at the local Home Depot.
Like shopping, cooking big meals are a pillar of holiday traditions and many times, the leftover meals are scraped into the trash can.
To cut down on the food waste from holiday meals, Adam Lowy, founder and executive director of a food distribution nonprofit called Move for Hunger, has these four recommendations:
- Make a meal plan, including how many people you’re serving.
- Don’t ignore the slightly wonky-looking produce at the grocery store.
- Once you’ve had your fill of holiday meals, put them in the freezer for your next low-energy day.
- Get creative with your recipes. For example, Lowy suggests holding on to your carrot tops to make pesto sauce.
Sustainability and waste reduction are important during the holidays, but it’s important to keep up these efforts year-round. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American family loses $1,500 worth of food each year.
To combat this waste, Move For Hunger and real estate company Cortland teamed up to provide a streamlined way for folks to donate food.
During the move-out process, the contents of the kitchen cabinets usually don’t take top priority and end up getting chucked in the trash. Instead, the two groups partnered together to make it easy for Cortland residents to donate food while moving out.
The impact of the partnership has been substantial — With 36 properties in the Atlanta area and 200 in total, Cortland residents have donated over 3,700 meals to folks in need.
“Our industry as a whole, every year tends to do sort of one event around, ‘Let’s support our local food bank,’” Jonathan Tucker, Cortland’s executive vice president of operations and facilities, said. “Then it’s sort of radio silence for the rest of the year.”
Instead, the team wants to make regular and manageable contributions to fight food insecurity and reduce waste.
For folks looking to lighten their load on Mother Earth, sustainability needs to be a practice, not an event. “If you actually want to create change, you need to make it part of the process, not just the thing that happens one time,” Lowy said.