9 Tips for reducing your holiday environmental footprint

By Laurèn DeMates and Ute Zischka.

The holidays are upon us which means the time of year when we consume and waste a lot more than usual: between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, household waste increases 25% in the U.S. (EPA). Here is a handful of minimal-effort recommendations to reduce your environmental footprint during the holidays while enjoying wonderful home cooked meals and celebrations with family or friends.

1.Create less food waste. To do so, plan out your food purchases and portions, get creative with leftovers and utilize your freezer. Seriously good holiday eats deserve to be eaten – not wasted. Per one of our previous posts all about food waste- $750 billion in food is wasted each year.

2.Buy local and take a seasonal approach. Reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from your food’s journey (aka food miles) by supporting local and trying to buy fruit and veggies that are currently in season. The Clean Metrics website calculates the emissions of your food choices and this site explores what is sprouting, when, and where – just click on your state.

3.Avoid single-use plastic water bottles, cups, plates, and cutlery. Using reusable items (instead of single-use) helps cut down the extensive plastic build up in landfills and avoids greenhouse gas emissions. Although it may be more work to wash all those dishes, dish duty can be divided up and the environment will thank you for the effort. Water use can be minimized by not letting the water run when scrubbing and, if you have a dishwasher, filling it up all the way and using an eco-setting.

4.Recycle, reduce, and reuse gift wrap. Think about how much gift wrap (and ribbons, bows, etc.) is used and then thrown away during the holidays. If you can extend the life of these materials by saving them and using them again – please do! Throwing away less gift wrap means using fewer resources, sending less to the landfill, and also spending less on new gift wrap.

5.Carpool. Most long-distance holiday travel is via a personal vehicle (e.g., cars, trucks). GHG emissions from cars are a major contributor to climate change so if you are driving home for the holidays, carpooling is a great way to reduce that contribution while still enjoying the comforts and flexibility of a personal vehicle.

6.Go for a live tree. Instead of buying and decorating a cut tree, consider purchasing a live, planted tree to use year after year. Approximately 33 million Christmas trees are cut and sold in North America every year (EPA), but a live tree can keep on thriving and sucking GHGs from the atmosphere (i.e., climate change mitigation).

7.Limit the lighting. We have all seen the Chevy Chase movie Christmas Vacation way too many times: light-up deer and Santa, hundreds of strands of lights, etc. Extreme lighting is great to joke about, but Christmas lights actually use a lot of energy. If you don’t want to skip the lighting, you can also set your lights on a timer, use LEDs where possible, and/or put lighting up a little closer to the holiday.

8.Eat more veggie dishes. Eating less meat (and more veggies) means emitting less GHG emissions. Lamb and beef are associated with the most emissions including methane, a GHG much more potent than carbon. Need some ideas and inspiration? Here are some delicious recipes.

9.Buy environmentally friendly presents. Reusable items (e.g., water bottles), items made from sustainable materials such as bamboo, Fair Trade certified products, and homemade gifts are great options. Planning an experience to share and making a donation to a nonprofit organization in the name of someone special are both options that eliminate “stuff” altogether and supports positive environmental and social change around the world.

These are only a few of the many ways to reduce environmental footprint during the holiday season and we are discovering more ways every year. We also enjoy hearing about the ways you reduce, so please share your tips with us!

Happy Holidays from the Sustainability Co-Op! -Updated December 2019

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