Joy for the World: Have a Sustainable Holiday Celebration!

Joy for the World: Have a Sustainable Holiday Celebration!

Follow these tips to enjoy a more sustainable holiday season this year

The holiday season is notoriously consumptive and wasteful – but it doesn’t have to be. By making a few joyful Changes, we can all do our part to cut down on the amount we consume and avoid sending extra trash to the landfill to have a more sustainable holiday.

On average, Americans toss out 25% more trash during the holidays compared to the rest of the year. Food waste, wrapping materials, party decorations, single-use utensils, and more pile up en masse between Thanksgiving and New Year.

The average American produces 5 pounds of trash per day, or 35 pounds each week, according to Brightly. During the holidays, that rises to 6.25 pounds per person per day, or 43.75 pounds each week. With a population of 330 million people, that means 2,887,500,000 more pounds of garbage are generated per week during the holidays relative to the rest of the year.

One Planet Life has compiled tips for all aspects of the holidays to ensure you and your family can enjoy a happy and sustainable season.

Decorate Your Home with Nature in Mind

Plastic decorations – Santas, snowmen, and more – adorning shelves are a common sight during the holidays. While many decorations may be family heirlooms handed down through the generations, avoid buying new plastic decorations that contribute to the production of new plastic that will eventually end up in a landfill. 

To have a more sustainable holiday, take a walk and see what items from nature you can use to supplement your holiday decorations this year. Pine cones, berries, and tree branches are great for decorating, especially to create unique table centerpieces for your holiday family meal. 

One Planet Life Sustainable Holiday Tips
If Christmas lights are a must, be sure to use LED lights that are more efficient

They’re sturdier, last longer, and consume 70% less energy than conventional incandescent light strands, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. It only costs $0.27 to light a 6-foot tree for 12 hours a day for 40 days with LEDs compared to $10 for incandescent lights. If everyone in the US replaced their conventional string lights with LEDs, it would save about 2 billion kWh of electricity each month, according to One Tree Planted. Utilizing light timers is an extra step you can take to conserve energy.

For the centerpiece of many homes this holiday season, choose a real tree instead of a plastic one. In the U.S., around 10 million artificial trees are purchased each season. Nearly 90% of them are shipped across the world from China, resulting in an increase in carbon emissions and resources. Most artificial trees are made of non-recyclable materials and end up in local landfills, according to The Nature Conservancy.

Choose a real Christmas tree

By choosing to cut a real tree at your local Christmas Tree farm this year, you also help support the local economy. For the trees that are cut, new ones are planted. These farms provide natural habitats for birds and other wildlife year-round and help convert carbon dioxide into clean oxygen.

Want to make a bigger impact? Buy a potted tree this year instead for a more sustainable holiday. My husband and I decided to purchase a white spruce that we plan to plant outside at the end of the season. While it’s a bit sparse compared to a cut tree (think Charlie Brown Christmas Tree), we feel joy in knowing we’ll get to enjoy it for years to come.

As an added bonus, real evergreens can be composted or recycled in various ways (like a treat for your local goat farm!) That way, your holiday decoration gets a second life and avoids ending up in a landfill.

Living Christmas Tree
Get Creative with the Gift Wrap

It’s no surprise that the use of wrapping paper increases during the holiday season. Most wrapping paper on the market actually isn’t recyclable, especially rolls with shiny gloss and sparkles. That means that, on average, 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper ends up in landfills each year, according to Earth 911.

Instead, have a more sustainable holiday celebration by substituting traditional wrapping paper with something a bit more creative. Newspaper, brown paper bags from the grocery store, old maps, and even scrap fabric are all great alternatives.

Ribbons and bows have become quite popular to spruce up wrapped gifts. If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet, according to Stanford University. If every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

Utilizing more biodegradable options, like string, twine, rosemary sprigs, pinecones, and other natural materials, have a lower impact on the environment because they break down much faster.

While sending holiday cards is a tradition for many, consider switching to a digital version instead. Whether or not we like to admit it, most holiday cards end up in the trash bin at the end of the season. Americans mail out a whopping 2.65 billion Christmas cards each year, which could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, 50,000 cubic yards of paper could be saved.

Natural Holiday Wrapping
Serving up Sustainable Meals During the Holidays

Food waste is a real problem in the U.S., with an estimated 63.1 million tons generated each year. During the holidays, a lot more food ends up getting thrown away from holiday gatherings and parties.

To avoid contributing to unnecessary landfill build-up, plan ahead for your gatherings and only make enough food for your expected guests. If you do have food left, send some home with your guests for a late-night snack or lunch the next day, get creative in reinventing future meals from what you have left, freeze what you can, or even contact your local homeless shelter or food bank to see if leftover food can be donated to those in need.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation suggested these additional tips to keep in mind when planning your upcoming sustainable holiday party:

  • Buy and serve locally grown food whenever possible.
  • Cook multiple items in the same oven and run appliances on full loads.
  • Avoid buying individually packaged drinks.
  • Serve your guests with reusable cups, plates, silverware, and utensils.
  • Tell your guests to bring reusable containers for leftovers.
  • Compost food that is not donated.
Start Some New Traditions

By getting outside (even if it’s chilly), you really learn to appreciate the reason why we want to make these Joyful Changes to begin with – to preserve the natural beauty our planet has to offer. Taking a hike with the family can become a great new holiday tradition to help you get others on board with keeping sustainability in mind year-round. Don’t forget to take a bag with you to pick up trash along the way and keep forests clean and safe for the wildlife that lives there!

People walking in winter nature

For over a century, the National Audubon Society has hosted The Christmas Bird Count, which occurs from December 14 to January 5 every season. In 1900, conservationists proposed a nationwide bird census to replace the tradition of shooting birds on Christmas Day. The event has seen growing participation every year since. Check out Audubon’s website to find a local group of birders to join and contribute important data that can be used in hundreds of analyses, peer-reviewed publications, and government reports that encourage bird populations to thrive.

While the holiday season is often driven by tradition, we can all make small tweaks that make a big impact collectively so our holiday celebrations are not only jolly but help create a more sustainable, “greener” future in the process.

Looking for more sustainable ways to shop this holiday season? Check out our 2022 Holiday Gift Guide for inspiration!

Written by Carley Kimball

Written by Carley Kimball

Freelance Journalist and OPL Content Contributor

“I’ve always tried to implement planet-friendly practices in my life but didn’t quite realize just how much of an impact individuals can make until I was introduced to One Planet Life. I’m so excited to be able to utilize my professional skills to contribute valuable information and positive personal experiences to help make the world a better place.”

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