During the holiday season, it’s easy to put green efforts aside. With the abundance of wrapping paper, the large meals and individually packaged gifts, keeping sustainability in mind is tough. However, it’s not impossible! Here are four ways you can enjoy your holidays while also being conscious of your environmental impact and reducing your “holiday footprint.”
- Buy a real tree! Yes, this is often controversial, and it’s not a bad idea to have an artificial tree that you use year after year. However, artificial trees have been linked to negative health and environmental impacts. Think about the bigger picture: the making of artificial trees creates large amounts of pollution—from the production of the plastic and the metal brackets to the emissions generated from shipping the trees to other countries to their abundance of packaging. These trees are also not recyclable and take up space in landfills at the end of their lives. Buying a real tree can have several positive impacts. First, trees are a carbon sink and provide clean air to your home. They also smell really nice! You might think that cutting down a tree is bad, but these trees are literally grown for our consumption—we aren’t cutting down virgin forests. Buying a real tree also helps a local tree farmer! This helps support your local economy and cuts back on our carbon footprint. Don’t forget to recycle or compost your tree after the holidays! Many towns in Summit County have recycling drop-off locations and then have a big celebratory bonfire. If your town doesn’t have a bonfire, it probably has a drop-off location. Look into your local options before throwing your tree in the garbage dumpster.
- Be aware of your holiday lights! Did you know that holidays lights in the U.S alone use 6.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year? That is 0.2 percent of our yearly energy consumption and enough power to run 14 million refrigerators! The U.S Department of Energy states that LED lights not only have a longer lifespan but also consume 70% less energy than your normal incandescent light strand. LEDs save money, too—it costs about $0.27 to light a six-foot tree for 12 hours a day for 40 days with LEDs, where incandescent lights would cost you about $10 for the same use. You can also cut back on your energy consumption by unplugging lights when you leave the house and during the daytime or by putting them on a timer. LEDs also radiate less heat, meaning your holiday tree is less of a fire hazard!
- Carbon offset your travels! Each holiday season, millions of people hop on planes, trains and buses to get to their families and friends. However, transportation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, it’s the second largest source of emissions in the U.S. Many airlines or train companies offer a carbon offset option where you can donate money toward a project. A carbon offset project offers services to sequester carbon—some examples include reforestation and agroforestry projects. If this is not an option for your travel plans, you could consider shared transportation once you arrive at your destination. Airport shuttles and public buses cut back on the need for renting a vehicle. When you opt for public transportation, you are cutting back on the traffic congestion in your holiday destination AND eliminating unnecessary emissions from a single person or family vehicle.
- Choose greener gift options! The amount of trash we throw away increases by 25% around the holiday season. If that doesn’t shock you, then did you know that if every family in the U.S wrapped just three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields? The idea of giving wrapped gifts is a nice sentiment, and many people enjoy doing it. However, gift wrap is used once, ripped apart and then thrown away. What if we used a more sustainable material? Perhaps, old newspapers? Reusable tins? Old maps or sheet music? There are tons of ways to get creative! If buying gift wrap and cards is a necessity, consider purchasing items made from “post-consumer” content and printed with nontoxic inks. A major way we can be environmentally friendly is to not buy more stuff at all. How about donating to a cause you believe in? Many organizations run a matching program over the holidays, meaning your dollar could be worth twice as much. There’s just something about giving a physical gift, though, and often a handmade gift can have even more of an impact on your loved ones. It shows you put time and thought into the gift. Try knitting your mom a sweater, baking your grandma some cookies or painting your dad a picture of his favorite spot. These types of gifts not only cut back on the resources you are using when buying new things but also mean a great deal more than something you purchased.
There are a multitude of ways to make your holiday a greener one, and most are easy to incorporate into your family traditions!