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Whether you’re new to eco-living or a seasoned expert, the holidays can be a challenge. All that wrapping, gift giving, and partying add up to a ton of waste. In fact, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period than any other time of year. But we know it’s not exactly easy to shift from the traditional expectations of gifting brand new items and creating a winter wonderland in your living room. To spark some inspiration, zero waste advocate Tara, from @zerowastewonders, shares her eco-friendly holiday tips.
For starters, she admits integrating these practices take courage. “Why would someone want a second-hand present over a brand new one?” says Tara. “Years ago, they may have laughed or felt I wasn’t being thoughtful, but now that they’ve observed how I live my life, they understand the meaning behind each present.” Still, she offers a note explaining how much time and care she puts into gift giving (often months of searching!). She even donates the difference of a new gift to a local college scholarship fund for women. “Now, their eyes fill with warmth and softness when I hand over a gift,” she says. With a touch of creativity and a dash of conviction, she’s found what works for her. Here are six more tricks for celebrating a greener, more meaningful holiday.
This year, instead of getting friends together for Secret Santa, propose a “green” themed holiday party. “We call it Goodwill & Games night,” says Tara. “Basically, a group of 10-15 friends go to the local Goodwill to find gifts and decorations.” Then they grab a board game and head home for mulled wine and friendly competition. For those still new to green living, this is an easy way to introduce others to your lifestyle. Maybe it will even become a tradition. For seasoned recyclers, this is a chance to bring together your like-minded community. Other green themes include a craft night to build New Year vision boards using recycled and salvaged materials or a clothing swap. Don’t all of these parties sound delightful? Seriously, count us in.
“One of our holiday meals each year is completely scrap,” says Tara. A seriously good idea, considering over Thanksgiving alone, Americans throw away a whopping 204 million pounds of turkey, writes a senior scientist for the Natural Resource Defense Council. Just like most low-impact practices, scrap meals take a bit of planning ahead. Tara gets a jump on saving scraps and collecting recipes 2-3 weeks ahead of the holiday. To do, she freezes, dries, and smokes leftover elements to put together on the big day. “We also do a leftover night, which becomes a bit of a competitive cook-off,” says Tara. Using their creativity, they may turn leftover chicken roast into a potpie or side vegetables into an omelet. We imagine this being like a zero-waste episode of Chopped.
It may seem small, but greeting cards have a big environmental impact. Each holiday season, about 65 billion cards are purchased. To put this in perspective, that’s enough paper (albeit jolly paper) to fill an entire football field around 25 stories high. And because glossy, shiny, or gold-foiled coatings can’t be recycled a lot end up in the landfill. Instead, consider sending an e-card or, gasp, making a phone call! If your heart is set on sending seasonal family updates via snail mail, look for holiday cards made from recycled paper, like Green Field Paper, or use scraps from other projects throughout the year to DIY your own. If you receive cards in the mail, save them and cut off the front pictures to reuse as “postcards” next year.
Oh, Christmas tree. Where to begin? The real verse fake debate is heated. Some knock fake trees for their inability to breakdown in landfills. Others say real trees are more harmful due to their large carbon footprint from nationwide shipping. Science backing this debate is equally divided, so here’s a fresh idea: skip the pine all together and string LED lights around a large houseplant. To avoid the mess of other holiday decorations, try making wreaths from outside goodies, like pinecones, pussy willow branches, and dried roses. For centerpieces, a simple potted poinsettia or a cluster of beeswax candles can do the trick. We also love traditional decorations, like stringing popcorn and dried oranges around the house.
You probably have more wrapping material lying around the house than you think. For example, you’re getting ready to wrap a book for your sister. Instead of using holly-patterned wrapping paper from the store, you can use old pages from her favorite magazine or photos from last year’s cat calendar. “Throughout the year, I like to pick up burlap, cotton, scarves, linens, and scrap paper,” explains Tara. “Folks love the fabric and often sheepishly ask if it’s okay to keep it, which makes me so happy to hear.” Other ideas include using brown paper bags, jars, old maps, newspaper, and wallpaper samples. And instead of new bows and ribbon, try yarn scraps, twine, or fabric. Because if every family used 2 less feet of brand new ribbon this year, it would save enough to tie a big bow around the earth.
Gifting is always a tough nut to crack for us eco-lovers. Thrifting is a great option, like wrapping up a stunning vintage coat, a few charming flowerpots, or a framed painting from a favorite artist You can also consider purchasing from low-impact companies like those on our 2019 Sustainable Gift Guide. But if you’re still struggling, consider something that can’t be wrapped. “Each year, I pick an open-ended question to ask my friends and family,” says Tara. “For instance, the past few years have been ‘What brings you energy?’ and ‘What would a perfect day look like for you?’ Then I build an experience-based gift for them!” This can be anything from a trip to the beach, to free yoga instruction, to a national parks pass. We love the idea of gifting an experience because it inspires both parties to be thoughtful. And who doesn’t enjoy creating lasting memories with the ones they love?
Even a few small changes to your holiday season can make a huge impact. These practices come with the added bonus of instilling new traditions and bringing up larger conversations. Have some eco-friendly holiday ideas of your own? We’d love for you to share on social! Tag us @seedphytonutrients.