Living Sustainably: Holiday Edition

Happy post-Thanksgiving, and happy December, everyone! It was a much busier week than anticipated, so I was certainly glad I gave you a pie post before your own festivities commenced. I hope your holiday weekend was excellent however you chose to spend it, celebrate it, or not celebrate.

So. Here in the states (and much of the world), we’re in the thick of the “holiday season,” which in the before-times, meant a lot of traveling, visiting, gift-giving, cooking, and indulging in food and drink. This year, many of us will likely still do much of that, with (I hope) less of the traveling and visiting parts to promote the safety and wellbeing of others.

I’m here today to be the Sustainability Elf, and give you some tips on how, in this season of feasts and friends, to continue doing your part in contributing to the wellbeing of your community, future generations, and the planet. Remember, kids: Earth doesn’t care that it’s Christmas. It still wants you to reduce, reuse, and recycle, and bring it back to good health.

Many of the items on my previous list of ways to build a more sustainable life apply to the holidays, as well, so go ahead and check out that longer list if you haven’t already done so, or if you need a refresher. Today’s list is more specific to many of the habits I have or notice around the holiday season.

Disclaimers, as usual:

One, I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas all of my life, so the tips revolve around what I know for those holidays. If you have a different and possibly cooler tradition you’ve followed that I’m missing here, I’d love to hear about it, as well as ways to make your own holidays more sustainable!

Here’s our silly little blurry tree for proof.

Two, this isn’t a money-saving list. Some tips will save you a buttload of money (like buying less or nothing), but others may cost more in actual dollar bills (like buying from local artisans rather than Amazon). However, always remember that everything has a cost: if it doesn’t come from your wallet or bank account, it’s coming from the wellbeing of small communities, people of developing nations and the poor of our own countries, animals, and the environment. I’d rather spend more cash than hurt my fellow humans and creatures, especially this absolutely crazy year.

Onwards to sustainability!

Shopping for Gifts and Food

  • Buy less. This is the number one way to reduce your carbon footprint (aside from buying nothing), as well as stick it to manufacturers of Junk We Really Don’t Need. Most items come in packages, many of them unrecyclable or with unrecyclable/disposable components, which we definitely don’t need more of. Buying less also reduces the general manufacture and transportation carbon costs of Junk by creating less of a demand for it.
  • Buy nothing. If you must spend money, consider donating to local charitable organizations instead. Your community is probably doing some really cool stuff you don’t even know about if you’ve never researched it. (If you’re an Asheville local, check out GiveLocal, which describes many cool organizations and how your money will be used, and even gives you some cool perks for donating.) Do this throughout the year, too – they need help all the time!
  • Make your gifts. Bakers and canners, you already know the joy that is giving tasty homemade items to friends and family. Crafty people, you save my skin when it comes to anything not edible, and I love showing off a cool piece of handmade jewelry or decor. Concerned that your gift isn’t “enough,” and that you need to spend a lot of money to give a “worthy” present? Always include your time and labor in the overall “price” of your homemade gift: that makes it worth more than most junk you find at Walmart or Amazon. Trust me.
  • Buy what people need. Ask people for what they need, rather than what they want. You can still be creative on this front, especially if there are different colors or styles of things that your loved ones need, or if a local vendor can provide it for you, rather than Amazon. By doing this, you know that your gift won’t be thrown out or re-gifted in perpetuity, and you’ll support your local economy.
  • Buy directly from local vendors and craftspeople. Of course I’m biased here, but I’ve been a supporter of buying quality local products for years before I started my own business. (Thanks, Dad!) Your local community probably has a bunch of talented artisans who would love your support during the holidays (and year-round, but this is a holiday post). And local community can extend beyond your city or town, if necessary: even if you’re buying directly from someone within your state or country’s region, you’re still keeping money within your wider community, and supporting its growth and success, rather than fattening the pockets of faraway manufacturers and distributors of Junk. Trust me: they have enough of your money and power already.
  • Buy produce and other food items locally and in-season. I said this one in the previous sustainability list, but it bears repeating: buy your food from local farmers, butchers, and other food providers. Design your holiday menu around what’s in season – yes, it’s winter, but there are still a lot of veggies (and a few fruits) that grow during the colder months, and if you’re lucky enough to have a canning friend, you may even get a taste of summer produce in jam or canned form.
  • This goes for meat, too. Did you know that meat has seasons? I confess, I learned this only a couple of years ago, when I asked my local butcher for sliced turkey in the spring. “Nope. We’ll only have it it November and December. Turkey season.” Many of us are used to seeing all the meats, all the time, available in the supermarket, but animals are slaughtered at particular logical times of the year, too. Long story short, four-legged animals (cows, pigs, deer, and the like) are fall and winter meats, while poultry, as well as their eggs, are best left for the spring and summer.
Mmmm, homemade gifts.

Home Waste Reduction and Reuse

  • Rethink your gift wrap. I absolutely love wrapping gifts – I used to do it as a band fundraiser in middle and high school, and got really good at it (true story – I once, successfully, wrapped a lawnmower). However, I don’t like the piles of wasted wrapping paper, and neither should you. Channel Julie Andrews and wrap your packages in brown paper (tied up with compostable strings, if you must), newspaper, or other compostable wrapping paper. Avoid wrapping paper with plastic bits, sequins, glitter, and other non-sustainable decorations, and if you’re especially crafty in decorating your own brown paper (go you!), avoid these items in your frenzy, as well.
  • Wrap in reusable bags or items. Keep reusing those gifts bags! We’ve got quite the collection here, and it makes transporting gifts from one house to another much easier, to boot. Even cooler still, wrap gifts in another gift, like a cool scarf, tea towel, or other clothing item (like socks!). I can seriously never have enough tea towels.
  • Re-gift what you don’t need, to someone who needs it. Oh no, the dreaded re-gifting! But all jokes and cultural/corporate shaming aside, if I need it, and you have it and don’t need it, I’m perfectly happy to get it as a gift, and more so if it means you didn’t spend money, time, and carbon to unnecessarily get a new version of what already works. Clean out those closets and basements, baby!
  • Avoid “disposable” plates, cups, and utensils. You know that stuff isn’t going anywhere but a landfill or the ocean (especially if it’s styrofoam or plastic), and you know you have extra plates in your cabinets. Yes, this means more washing. Yes, this also means fewer garbage bags.
  • Eat your leftovers. We tend to cook and bake a lot more during the holidays, which means your fridge and pantry may be full of food. Don’t be that person who “doesn’t eat leftovers,” or lets containers of food spoil in the back of the fridge. Quit wasting food, you dingus, and either eat it or give it to someone who will.
Leftover cupcakes, anyone?

Energy Savings

  • Say it loud for the folks in the back: Turn down your thermostat! You don’t need it above 65 degrees and you know it. Put on socks, a sweater, and another sweater if you have to. Get yourself some warm blankets (or ask for some for your gifting holiday). Use that oven – it’s baking season! If you’ve got a working fireplace or wood-burning stove, use it, you lucky devil.
  • Use cool or cold water for washing whenever you can. I hate cold hands, and I still try to do this. Still working on it, too.

Got a holiday sustainability tip that I forgot? I’d love to hear it in the comments!

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