Sustainable Holidays (Part 1)
Crisis Free Christmas: A 6 Week Series
Welcome to Week 5 Part 1: Sustainable Holidays by Sharon
If you’ve had the opportunity to meet me in the flesh, you probably know that I’m aaall about having an eco-friendly, sustainable lifestyle. In a short definition, I really try to be conscious about supporting a healthy Earth, support products that are good for communities, and support local economies by shopping local as much as possible.
I’m continuously trying to learn more, and I’ve recently been thinking about how I can incorporate sustainability into the holiday season. Holidays can be suuuper wasteful. We tend to use a lot of single use items to make things more convenient, buy small items that aren’t meant to last long, and nearly everything we buy is made of plastic or has plastic packaging. Many of us are already planning on shopping online this year due to the pandemic which will increase fuel usage on the roads and can hurt small businesses because so many people will be buying from more big box stores.
So, I’ve come up with a list of ways we can reduce our impact and support our local communities. Some of these can ultimately save you some money and some can be a fun activity to do with the kids while you're holed up in your home (any other parents been having days where you feel like pulling your own hair out? I don’t even know why I ask that question... Ha ha! Sob Sob!)
Holiday decor is most often made from materials that can’t be recycled. Tinsel doesn’t last forever unfortunately, and always ends up in the landfill. If you already have your holiday decor, great! If you’re due for replacements, consider these alternatives to buying new:
- Buying used- Go to a local thrift shop and search for some “new to you” decorations. Yes, they are made out of the same non-recyclable materials. But buying used gives them a second life instead of them going straight to the landfill.
- Make your own- Make ornaments and garlands out of compostable materials (check out our sustainable holiday crafts list for ideas).
- Use natural greenery- You can buy cranberries and make floating motives for Thanksgiving and get live evergreen to decorate every surface of your house for Christmas. Collect pinecones dropped from trees in town and get some cinnamon sticks to add to table settings or on hearths. When you’re done using them, toss them in your own compost heap at home or take them to your local composting facility with your live tree or yard clippings.
When you've spotted a cute shirt while shopping, have you thought about what the process was for that shirt to get there? Unfortunately, the large majority of products we use in the U.S. are made overseas and a lot of them are not made ethically. Many are made with materials that are just terrible for the earth as well. Here are a few things to consider when finding a gift:
- Look for verbiage on their labels that indicate fair treatment of factory workers like the Fair Trade Certified seal.
- Check the packaging for info on the company. Many companies that have commitments to sustainable practices will let you know on their label. If you are ever in the store, check out our Plan Toys. They are a GREAT example.
- Consider getting an experience gift or food as a gift.
- Introduce people to sustainable products by giving reusables (check out our Sustainable White Elephant Gift Ideas list for suggestions).
- Look at what materials the potential gift is packaged in. Try to avoid plastic packaging as much as possible. Opt for gifts that have no packaging or recyclable packaging.
Most wrapping paper, ribbons, and cards we use are not recyclable. They use heavy dyes, glitter and materials that are harmful to the earth. Use what you have left in storage and then opt for these options instead:
- Purchase wrapping paper that is recyclable or made from recycled materials.
- Use brown butcher paper, brown paper bags, or old newspaper for wrapping paper. Make an art project for the kids to decorate the butcher paper with washable markers for a personal touch!
- Get decorative fabric to wrap gifts in that can be reused year after year. Wrap closed using a big, fabric ribbon. Look up Furushiki Wrapping online for folding tips.
- Ditch plastic ribbons or bows and opt for twine or fabric ones that can be reused.
- Collect natural greenery like evergreen, pinecones, and dried flowers to add a decorative touch.
Cards are similar to wrapping paper. They use many of the same materials that render them non-recyclable. And they’re expensive.
- Instead of physical cards, send e-cards instead! There are a lot of websites where you can choose a Holiday format, add a family photo, and then email or text them to your loved ones.
- If you do want to send physical cards, consider getting ones that are recyclable.
- You can also make an art project with your kids and hand make cards on paper that can be recycled. Family will love seeing your kids’ artwork and the personal touch feels special. My nephews made me birthday cards last year with drawings of Hagrid and Harry (they know I LOVE Harry Potter). The cards were on my fridge for many months afterward. Use washable markers instead of crayons or paint and that will ensure the paper remains recyclable.
- If you’re given cards, save them for next year and cut them up to make gift tags for gift wrapping.
Purchasing online can be really convenient. I get it. But it poses a few big sustainability issues. Your money doesn’t always stay in your community and the fuel it takes to put one item on a truck can have a big impact.
- Shopping at local small businesses keeps your dollars in your community, which helps support the local economy.
- $50 dollars at a small business is HUGE to them, whereas $50 to a big box company is chump change.
- Small businesses tend to purchase in bulk, and as long as you don’t drive back and forth to multiple places searching and plan out your shopping trips, this reduces overall fuel usage. When items are sent in bulk there is often significantly less packaging since it all comes in one big box instead of individual mailers for each item.
- Many small businesses make an effort to carry products made locally or in their state or they make their own products in-house. Better for the economy and can also reduce fuel usage because of the shorter traveling distance.
- I find that most are very intentional about what they carry and make an effort to be knowledgeable about it.
- Worried about social distancing? Check with your local small businesses. Most are offering curbside pick up or even free local delivery. Some have online stores where you can browse virtually to see what they have to offer (like us!)
OTHER GIFTING IDEAS
- Instead of using disposable tableware, get out that nice china you never use for your holiday meals! Ok, ok I get it. If dishes sound daunting, opt for compostable instead of plastic. Or use paper plates but real cutlery.
- Give locally made edible goodies like a charcuterie board, spice blends, preserves of a local fruit, or a fresh baked loaf of bread from the bakery for adult gifts. Consumables keep waste out of the landfill!
- Give gift cards to local small businesses. Like a gift card to a fancy, local sit down restaurant that they wouldn’t normally take themselves to.
- If kiddos already have a bunch of stuff, give them cash! It sounds not-so-personal but every kid I’ve met is always suuuper excited to count how much they are given and brainstorm how they are going to use it. Then you rest assured they will get something they will like and use!
- Go to a local coffee shop and get fresh coffee beans for the coffee lover in your life. Small business coffee shops also tend to make commitments to using ethically and sustainably grown coffee. They’ll nerd out with you by helping you choose the best one for your friend. After it’s enjoyed, the coffee grounds make great soil additives for gardens or to compost piles.
- Get mason jars and fill them up with all the dry ingredients of your favorite cookie recipe (layer them in the jar for effect). Decorate with a re-usable bow and attach a card with the list of wet ingredients and directions so they can bake them at home.
I hope you can incorporate some of these things into your holiday season! Even if you do one of these things, it still makes an impact. Have fun with it!
PS - Don't miss this list of ideas for White Elephant (or Secret Santa!) gifts I've put together just for you!