Your Guide to having an Eco-Conscious Holiday Season
The holiday season is in full swing once again, and for once my inner environmentalist and child are at peace with one another — as they should be! How did a season that’s supposed to be about love and light become so commercialized and wasteful? And how is it that I, self-proclaimed eco activist, find myself in love with all of that dazzling commercialization?
There’s nothing wrong with loving the season and all of the joys that come with it. The end of year calls for self reflection - and the fact that you are here, right now, reading this blog post, means YOU are making a conscious effort! Well done!
I’ll preface this by saying you should not worry about choices you’ve already made or ghosts of Christmases past. We’re all in this together, and I’m here to help you out with my tips for an eco-conscious holiday season.
DECKING THE HALLS
I’ll start with my favorite: decorations. But what exactly is the impact of all those boughs of holly? Should you go out and buy new strings of LEDs in lieu your old lead-laden dazzlers? My answer: NO.
Tip 1: USE WHAT YOU HAVE!
It is always, always, always better to use what you have than buy new. Though there are lots of products on the market that boast environmentally-friendly production, any newly manufactured product will have an impact. And in order to make the footprint of old decorations “worth it,” you have to use it!
Subtip: About that fake tree…
Before I get in to the nitty gritty of what the most eco friendly tree option is, I gotta tell you: if you already have a fake tree, the best choice would be to USE IT. A recent study showed that in order to neutralize the impact of the production of fake Christmas trees, they need to be used for about 20 years. That’s right: 20 years of real trees has the same environmental impact of the production of one fake one. So if you’ve got it, flaunt it: and by it I mean your beloved family Christmas tree. And if you choose NOT to use it any longer…
Tip 2: DONATE!
Most fake trees are made from PVC, which means they won’t biodegrade. The best option for unwanted trees is to donate them, either to a family in need or a thrift store, so that they can live out their 20+ years of use by bringing joy to others rather than sitting amongst trash in a landfill forever.
The same goes for other decorations - the phrase is Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, after all. Anything that can be used again, should be! But about that first R…
Tip 3: GO MINIMAL!
Minimalism is IN. Less, more. You know the drill. Reduce your impact by reducing your purchases.
Back to that tree again. If you DON’T have an existing fake tree, the most eco-conscious choice you can make is not to have a tree at all. Trim your potted plants with ornaments. Decorate a tree outside. Make an alternative tree. The fact is, any product - even a living product - has an impact. But if you’re like me, your inner child is probably horrified at the idea of placing their presents beneath anything less than an evergreen. So…
Tip 4: Weigh your options
A quick Google search will give you loads of information about the pros and cons of real vs. fake Christmas trees. Here’s the positive facts on real trees:
Real trees absorb carbon dioxide and other gases and emit fresh oxygen while they’re growing. Tree farms stabilize soil, protect water supplies, and provide refuge for wildlife. The soil where tree farms are grown often don’t support other crops.
To ensure a constant supply of trees, growers often plant one to three new seedlings for every tree they harvest.
Real trees are biodegradable, which means they can be easily reused or recycled for mulch and other purposes. Find out more about recycling your tree in the KC metro.
And some less happy notes:
Before there was a tree farm, there was a habitat. Do you, an individual, have the ability to reverse this? No, of course not. But that’s something to keep in mind when choosing whether to support the industry.
Trees need water to grow. They use a lot of water in the early growing years.
That’s right… it takes 5-10 years for a real Christmas tree to grow.
Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides are used by tree farmers.
If it wasn’t grown locally, carbon emissions from transporting the tree must be taken into consideration.
Though many believe the positive impact of real trees outweigh the negative, if you’re still having trouble reconciling, we have a great option in the KC metro for environmentalists: the Red Cedar.
Though not your typical Christmas tree type, they are evergreen, and can be trimmed into a traditional shape. More importantly, red cedars are an invasive species to prairie land. They take valuable rain and stream water, reduce soil fertility, spread the disease apple cedar rust, destroy habitats, produce oils toxic to other plants, and are especially susceptible to fire. You’ve already missed it this year, but Bridging the Gap and Johnson County Parks and Recreation hold an annual event for cutting down invasive red cedars - learn more here.
In conclusion, your priority should be using what you have. From there, make educated choices about how you deck your halls.
A TIME FOR GIVING
Ahh, what greater joy is there than seeing those you love peel back the wrapping paper on some new trinket or treat you’ve given them? Gift giving is an essential part of the season, but another area where conscious decisions should be made.
Tip 1: Give an Experience
You don’t have to worry about packaging or sustainability when you give the gift of an experience! Memberships, passes, tickets, classes, or even a night on the town - what does your loved one like to DO? Give the gift of active memories!
Tip 2: Everybody Loves Food
Fresh baked cookies can mean so much more than a cheap trinket! A home cooked meal means more fun shared with friends. And your body takes care of the waste for you!
Tip 3: Give Back
The person who has it all may appreciate a charitable donation in their name. Doing good while minimizing waste - I can’t think of a more guilt-free gift choice!
Tip 4: Think Outside the Box (literally)
Let’s not kid ourselves - or our kids. Some folks need things. Some of us like shopping! So get creative when it comes to wrapping. Brown paper packages tied up with string are SO in - and chances are, you’ve already got the paper! I’ve been using grocery bags and the brown paper filler from Amazon shipments for years. They look great, and it gives the paper another life before recycling - remember that second R! If you carefully remove wrapping paper and hold on to bags, you can also reuse packaging from this years’ presents for next year. Other options include newspaper and kids’ drawings. For name tags, cut from old Christmas cards. Oh yeah, cards . . .
DO YOU REALLY WANNA SEND THOSE CARDS?
For some of us, the thought of signing, stamping, and mailing Christmas cards can cause an anxiety spike. Though it’s nice to be thoughtful, if the activity stresses you out, use your environmentalism as an excuse to skip it this year! Everybody and their grandma is on Faceobok now - post your family card there, and no one will be forgotten. Print just a few (on recycled paper!) to send to loved ones who aren’t on Facebook, or for those who just like to hold things in their hands. Any reduction is positive!
A TIME FOR FEASTING
Tis the season for food! To avoid food waste, plan, plan, plan! But I have to address the turkey in the room: yes, the turkey. And the ham. And the roast beast. It’s tough for many Americans to hear, but the fact is we consume a LOT of meat in this country, and its environmental impact is not so great. Consider reducing the amount of meat you serve at holiday meals (or nix it altogether!) and what you do have, source locally. In fact, it’s a good idea to source as much food locally as you can.
THE TRAFFIC IS TERRIFIC
There’s no place like home for the holidays! Emissions from travel, however, can be a serious concern. If you can’t avoid travelling, remember this tip: drive slow. Your car gets its best mileage at a speed of 40-55 mph - from 50 to 60 mph fuel economy drops by 12%, from 50 to 70 mph it drops by 25%, and from 50 to 80 mph it falls by 36%. That’s pretty significant! If you maintain a steady speed of 55 mph over the river and through the woods, you’ll have reduced the impact of that trip to Grandma’s house by a significant amount.
THE REASON FOR THE SEASON
The holidays are stressful enough as it is, so it’s important not to be overwhelmed with all of the facts and figures. If you can focus your intentions on the true meaning of these winter holidays, the rest will follow. Be mindful and do your best not getting too caught up in the hustle and bustle, the expectations and commercial demands; at the end of the year, the most important thing will be the time spent together. Take care of yourself, your family, and your planet - and have a blessed holiday season!