eco-friendly efforts at the holidays.

December 11, 2017

zero-waste efforts at the holidays | reading my tea leavesWe’re in the thick of what’s arguably the most indulgent time of year. I’m not here to tell you to lay off the egg nog or the gingerbread cookies, but I thought it might be nice to draw up a simple list of ways that we can all think about keeping principals of environmental stewardship and general eco-mindedness top-of-mind during a moment in the year when there can be a lot of extra wastefulness. 

These are simple steps—they won’t halt climate change or change policies—but I think that if we all committed to them together, we’d still be headed in the right direction.
zero-waste efforts at the holidays | reading my tea leavesHerewith, ten simple eco-friendly habits to embrace this holiday season:

Bring your hot chocolate in a thermos to-go. Maybe you haven’t quite gotten into the habit of toting your thermos around for your morning coffee. Now’s the moment. Get yourself a mug to go, fill ‘er up with mulled wine or cocoa and bring it along to Christmas caroling or tree-hunting. If you have a loved one who needs some encouragement, consider a gift of a thermos. 

Take public transportation. Weigh your holiday travel options and see if there’s a way to reduce your footprint. If you’re not in the habit of taking public transit, see if you can work out a trip to the local festival of lights via subway or bus. Look into train fare instead of taking the car. Carpool with friends to the office party. Bundle up and take a festive walk instead of warming up the car engine.

Mimic Mother Nature. From artificial trees, to tinsel, to bits of faux holly and ivy, there are a lot of resources poured into creating facsimiles of things that can be found in nature. If you have the option, forage what you can from your own backyard or roadside for free or support a local tree farmer or nursery and buy a fresh or living tree. If what you make can be composted at the end of the season, well, all the better.

Eat your greens and feast locally. In the Northeast at least, many farmers have put most of their garden beds to rest for the winter, but there are still lots of ways to rely on local larders for festive meals. Consider supporting nearby farmers and planning meals around winter squashes, winter greens, and locally raised meats and fish. If thoughtfully raised meat is prohibitively expensive—and even if it’s not—consider a veggie-heavy holiday meal instead.

Crowd-source supplies for your holiday party. It’s the season of festive gathering, and thank goodness, but all of these gatherings can produce a lot of unnecessary waste if left unchecked. Consider crowd-sourcing your holiday party supplies. Ask friends to bring extra cutlery. Tap your neighbor for an extra set of wine glasses. Have everyone tie a bit of colored yarn or ribbon to their glass to keep track of it. Try for creativity instead of disposability, and I almost guarantee the result will be a more beautiful gathering. (It will definitely be a less wasteful one.)

Bring a cloth-wrapped dish. Whether you’re toting a plate of cookies—or a tray of lasagne—consider a reusable wrapping when bringing a dish to a party. There are circumstances that call for shoring up a casserole with tin foil, but I’ve found that the majority of the time, all you need is a square cloth tied furoshiki style, or a bit of Beeswrap (or similar) to safely transport your culinary contribution without spilling. (Who cares if the cloth gets mussed a little bit? Bring it home again and give it a wash!) If the cookies are a gift itself, consider wrapping them up in a bag that becomes part of the gift, too.

Say no to new plastic. Controlling everything that comes into your home without becoming known as the zero-waste Scrooge can be a challenge, but if encouraging friends and family to follow in your footsteps feels overwhelming, or just plain impossible, focus on your own efforts. From stocking stuffers to décor, commit to a plastic-free holiday. Setting a blanket goal like that—even if it feels daunting at first—helps me to get inspired to rise to the challenge. And remember, plastic-free doesn’t have to mean precious.

Eschew the shiny wrappings. Make your best effort to wrap gifts in reusable and recyclable options and if you *are* buying new wrapping paper, leave the shiny stuff at the store and opt for something that’s recyclable—or better yet, reusable.

Give gifts of experience. I’ve written a lot about encouraging philosophies of gift giving that encourage fewer gifts and more thought. Some of my favorite kinds of gifts are gifts of experience. A dinner out, a movie in the theatre, tickets to an exhibit—these are gifts that don’t create waste, but certainly create joy. Others are gifts that gently shift habits. Whatever you give, consider the end result from a perspective of sustainability. If you think the gift is ultimately headed to a landfill, consider an alternative.

Give back to the planet. Use the holidays as a chance to renew your commitment to supporting environmental causes. Consider setting aside funds for a small monthly donation, or, if extra cash isn’t something that’s readily available, plan a regular volunteer effort, like a beach or park cleanup, that you can commit to as a family.

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  • Reply Laura December 11, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    You know how you hear about something for the first time, and then all of a sudden it’s everywhere? I just bought some fabric yesterday to try wrapping all my Christmas gifts furoshiki style. Now if only I could find my pinking shears so the edges wouldn’t unravel!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 12, 2017 at 9:34 am

      Ha, yes! Good luck on your pinking shear hunt!

  • Reply Stephanie December 11, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    Inspiring as always. Thank you. Your space is a gentle reminder for us to be a little more mindful. Your philosophy around gift giving is one that makes my heart sing!

  • Reply Alie December 11, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    Such thoughtful ideas, and always a big fan of gifts of experience! Thanks for these reminders!

  • Reply Helen December 11, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    I love this post so much. The holiday season is a great time to think about how we can implement more sustainable practices into our daily lives. I love the idea of giving experiences and reducing waste, and I’m really proud of myself for sticking to public transit this time of year, despite the cold.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 12, 2017 at 9:37 am

      indeed! something to apply to every season!

  • Reply Rachael December 11, 2017 at 11:03 pm

    year in sum: this has been a serious year of activism on your part. I’m only *now* coming around to the idea of tackling significantly less waste with my family. I feel that you have been on the tightrope walking this all year–trying your best, doing what you can, reminding us as lightly as one possible could. xo

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 12, 2017 at 9:36 am

      thanks for your kindness, friend. there have been quite a few slips, but we are trying! cheers to your start!

  • Reply Аnn December 11, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    Bring your hot chocolate in a thermos to-go.. This is a great idea! When I was in China, I saw that almost everyone, including kids, carried a thermos with hot water. It is said that drinking on a sip of hot water during the day is good for health.
    I bought there a small thermos and often take tea with honey, lemon and ginger in the winter. If you add a piece of ginger, you can just fill the hot water again. In a thermos perfectly brewed herbs and berries.

  • Reply Cassi December 12, 2017 at 4:07 am

    Great ideas. I’ve been trying to reduce the number of gifts i give out this year. And I plan to give experiences, upcycled gifts and homemade cookies to those on my list. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Reply Lacey December 12, 2017 at 7:49 am

    oh, how glad i am to have found your blog! thank you for your thoughtful, collected posts. it is quite refreshing in a sea of hurried posts that simply consist of a hundred affiliate links. i feel like your words have been crafted with care and you really believe in the message you share. my husband and i are slowly making changes in our lives to be more mindful about what we buy, what we eat, how we shop, etc. your blog is fun and inspiring! happy christmas!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE December 12, 2017 at 9:35 am

      thanks so much! so glad you found it, too!

  • Reply Lizzie Iona December 12, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    Thank you for so many wonderful ideas. This year I am wrapping in brown paper, tied with string and decorated with dried orange slices and a dear little running hare stamp. Not certain about environmental credentials of the ink though! And next year I plan for all birthday gifts to be wrapped in fabric. Your blog is so inspiring, thank you.

  • Reply Diana December 12, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    Yes to this post! I am always working on ways to shrink my imprint, and I think it’s important to be mindful of what you buy. I hardly ever take bags when I buy items from the store unless I can’t do without, I reuse wrapping paper and am trying to make a lot of changes at home. I think the more we talk about these things and do them, the more other people will adapt similar practices as well! Thank you for writing this xx

  • Reply K Ann December 12, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    Thanks for the encouragement! Used up leftover wrapping paper from last year, and for the first time decided to forgo the (horribly ugly) plastic bows you get at the dollar store. Instead, I raided the house for bits of ribbon and string to tie around presents. Also, we opted for a real tree this year; my first one ever! I did purchase a few glass bulbs to add to our collection of homemade and hand-me-down decor. My next goal is to get up the courage to collect used wrapping paper at family gatherings to recycle.

  • Reply Hannah December 12, 2017 at 10:49 pm

    Thanks for the reminders! I did your experiential advent this year and it’s been very festive and well-received.

    A fun tradition my family does is called “recycle santa.” Two weeks before Christmas, everyone puts their name in a hat and you draw a name. Your task is to find something already around the house – a book they’ve forgotten about, a piece of clothing that used to fit someone else and could now fit them, an old beloved childhood puzzle that you could glue onto a backing and turn into wall art, etc – and those presents are exchanged at Christmas. It’s fun to guess who your recycle santa was. Of course, that only works if you live with parents who are “savers” (or dare I say mild hoarders) – it seems like in your apartment there isn’t anything unused to recycle and repurpose!

  • Reply Anna December 14, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    Had an old William Morris calendar that was too pretty NOT to recycle. The pages made good wrapping paper for small items.

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