The concept of sustainability seems almost impossible to practice during the winter holiday season. Whether it’s over the top light displays, TV commercials that seem to normalize gifting a car, or the ubiquitous holiday music that stores start pumping out the minute Halloween is over, the winter holidays seem to be the exact opposite of sustainable. But it is up to you to turn that assumption on its head. If it’s important to you, it is possible to practice sustainability even during the holiday season. You can do it!
Even those well-meaning among us with a commitment to sustainability can lose our minds during December. The frenzied imperative to shop that is stressed by retailers and the well-meaning peer pressure from friends and family can turn otherwise thoughtful humans into crazed over-shoppers with the pressure to make everything perfect. This is an intervention for all us--it is okay to keep things simple. Not only is that better for the planet and your wallet, but it’s better for your peace of mind.
Here are some practical tips in the three main areas in which we can go overboard with--gifts, food, and decorating.
Tips to Practice Sustainability During the Holidays
The most direct way to practice sustainable gifting is to forgo giving gifts completely. If that’s just not ideal for your life--and let's face it, that describes most of us--then consider giving practical gifts that you know won’t be wasted.
For example, gift a Misfits Market produce box subscription. Misfits Market is a new affordable “ugly" produce delivery service that since its debut earlier this year has saved more than 200,000 pounds of produce that would otherwise have been wasted.
Another sustainable gift idea is to gift a basket full of sustainable reusable products like compostable toothbrushes, LED light bulbs, chemical-free cleaners, and more. Or to save time, gift one of the Zero-Waste gift boxes from Zoetica. Each kit offers a stylish, easy, and convenient way for people to say "no" to convenience trash. Choose from the Kitchen Kit, Lunch Kit, the Nomad and more.
On the other hand, giving experiences is another more sustainable gift option. Gift a membership or tickets to a local museum, science center, nature conservatory, or community theater group that your giftee can visit during the year. Not only will your loved ones have gained some lovely memories, but you will be supporting a local non-profit that is doing good and contributing to the community.
Of course, you can also get creative and make handmade gifts. It is the thought that counts, after all.
Food & Drink
Admit it. The holidays are all about the food. The winter holiday season is when we focus on the baking, go out to celebrate with friends, and cook up a storm for family gatherings. With food waste being a major problem, it is important to remember to keep it all in moderation, though.
Remember that eating out is one of the biggest contributors to the food waste cycle. Not only as a result of those big portions, but there’s a lot of food waste that happens in the kitchen as well. Consider skipping the restaurant outings this year or keep your celebrating to drinks and appetizers.
When cooking for the big holiday dinner, prepare in advance for the leftovers to guarantee that food won’t be wasted. “For some families, leftovers are a tradition in and of themselves, but for others, turkey and sweet potatoes can get old fast,” offers up Reilly Brock from Imperfect Produce. “If yours is the latter, make sure to encourage guests to take home food with them to spread the wealth! Prepare for the load out by stocking up on extra containers that you don’t mind giving away.”
For making the most of that locally- pasture-raised heritage bird or other main course protein, Iris and Zach, co-directors of Gingerhill Farm Retreat suggest that you make the most of it. “You can make nourishing bone broth from leftover bones and save animal fats for future sautéing and cooking.
Decking the Halls
The best advice for holiday decorating is to keep it simple--less can really be more when it comes to being sustainable.
Eschew the light displays and other electric and battery-operated displays. If you simply must decorate with lights, consider using solar-powered lights outside and LED lights inside. LED lights are safer and up to 80% more energy efficient than incandescent. The best LED tree lights, according to Wirecutter from “The New York Times,” are GE’s Energy Smart Colorite LED Miniature Lights.
For other types of decorations, don’t forget thrift stores, estate sales, yard sales, and your parents’ and grandparents’ attics. Instead of buying retro-style tree ornaments from a large retailer, decorate your tree with the genuine thing.
Additionally, don’t forget about DIY. Take a winter walk in the woods and forage for pine boughs, acorns, holly berries, and more to make your own holiday garland. Or use pinecones and ribbon to make ornaments. Additionally repurposed glass jars can be turned into DIY snow globes in an afternoon.
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