We’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.
Herewith, 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.