Creating More Sustainable Christmas Traditions

Green Tips | December 14, 2018

From NYLCVEF Director of Programs, Angela Hotaling

Eight years ago, I wrote an article for a green blog about some of the unsustainable activities that often accompany Christmas traditions. While it was 8 years ago, many of these same realities exist. According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the amount of trash produced in the US increases by around 25%, which amounts to about one million extra tons of garbage each week. From wrapping paper to used Christmas trees to excessive holiday party feasts, Americans are producing tons (literally) of waste. Most of this trash ends up in our landfills, where it produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

What can we do to cut down on the trash and create more sustainable (but still meaningful) traditions? Check out our Christmas (red) and Green Tips below. Happy holidays!

  • Figure out the tree situation: Real or fake, that is the question. There are lots of arguments on both sides but here are some things to consider: fake trees save a living tree from getting the ax, but they’re often made from plastic and eventually end up in the landfill. If you have a plastic tree already, keep it around for as long as you can. When purchasing real tree try finding suppliers that practice sustainable harvesting (not clear-cutting entire forests or farms). Supporting local tree farms is a good option. For creative ideas on how to avoid the fake or real decision altogether, check out these unique ideas, like the driftwood tree or bookcase tree. 
  • Cut down on the wrapping: The life cycle of wrapping paper is distressing from a waste perspective. Get creative about your packages this year. Save up or look around for previously-used materials, like maps, magazines, or newspapers. Try packaging your gifts in reusable bags or wrapping them in scarves that can be made part of the gift. Bottom line: reusable is best!
  • Try meatless: As you plan your holiday meals and parties, consider serving less meat. We’ve previously written about the environmental and climate impacts of the meat industry. Switching to a full vegetarian or vegan diet can be a big transition (and a complete no-go for some of your guests) but make a compromise by offering vegetarian options and cutting down on the amount of meat that’s consumed. 
  • Gift your loved ones experiences rather than material items: We’ve mentioned this before too. With the buzz of Christmas shopping deals, it’s easy to get persuaded to keep buying, whether it’s more presents or taking advantage of sales for yourself. Try to make a gift list before you go shopping so you don’t over-buy. Also consider non-material gifts like trips or memberships to museums, tickets to concerts or shows, or even just doing something nice for someone you love. A lot of times, these gifts create memories that last much longer than a new toaster or microwave. 
  • Remember to turn off the decorations: There’s a lot going on during the holidays so it’s easy to get distracted and leave the lights on or the music playing for hours and hours. Try to remember to unplug or turn these items off when you’re not using them to cut down on electricity usage and save some extra money.

We can create special memories with our family and friends this holiday season while also taking steps to reduce our environmental impact. From trying new things to buying less, everything you do can make a difference and set a positive example for younger generations. Happy holidays!

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