Joy to the Earth: 7 Ways to Be Gentler on the Environment This Holiday Season

By: Denali Selent

With the holidays just around the corner, it’s easy to slip up when it comes to making conscientious and eco-friendly decisions. The not-so-merry-and-bright side to the holidays includes increased waste production, high emissions of greenhouse gases and a plethora of other issues. However, you don’t need to sacrifice the joys of the season to be gentle on the planet. Here is a collection of 7 ways you can make your holiday season a little greener, and the Earth a little merrier: 


1. Eco-friendly Wrapping Options

Each year, Americans spend a staggering $7 million on gift wrapping paper. The vast majority of this paper is not recyclable, and the paper that is recyclable often takes lots of chemicals to process the inky paper. In order to really have a positive impact, consider other wrapping options. Some include using newspapers, magazines, or Kraft/butcher paper. Unlike wrapping paper, Kraft paper (available at local department and craft stores) is recyclable and compostable. Some fun decorating ideas for the plain paper could be using Christmas stamps on it (but be careful of the ink if you plan to compost rather than recycle), drawing on doodles, tying it with twine, and much more: Pinterest is your best friend when it comes to wrapping inspiration! Another great way to swap out wrapping paper is to wrap a gift with something the recipient can use again. Some fun ideas are a reusable bag, a cute tin or box, a mason jar, etc.! And finally, if you receive a gift with wrapping paper, try your best to unwrap it carefully and reuse it the next year!


2. Eco-friendly Christmas Cards

For many, holiday cards are a fun tradition and way to reach out to family and friends. However, as soon as the holidays pass, they often find their way into the trash. Companies such as Bloomin, Earthlygoods, Botanical PaperWorks, and many more offer customizable Christmas cards made from recycled post-consumer materials that come with seeds in them! This means that when you are done with the card, they can be planted to grow flowers, herbs, etc. While the cards can be pricey, to save money, you can find the blank seed cards on Amazon for as cheap (or cheaper!) than regular Christmas cards and decorate them yourself. For those who are extra creative, you can put together a small video or photo compilation online and send it as a Christmas card to completely eliminate waste!


3. Conscientious Gift Shopping

We’ve all been there before- dashing back and forth from the store the week before Christmas to try and comprise gifts for our loved ones. However, one thing we often don’t think of is the greenhouse gases we emit and the pollution we create from these short, mission-oriented trips. Instead, focus on planning out your gifts for each person before doing one long shopping trip where you can check everything off your list! Further, when it comes to selecting gifts, focus on a meaningful, well thought-out gift that the recipient can truly cherish, rather than many random gifts. This eliminates a lot of plastic packaging, and it will show the recipient how much you care about them! 


4. Swap out the fake tree for a real one

While fake trees may be appealing for their price and low hassle to clean up, it is valuable to consider the many positive benefits of purchasing a real Christmas tree. According to a 2018 article from the New York Times, “The trees provide many benefits to the environment as they grow, cleaning the air and providing watersheds and habitats for wildlife,” and “of course, they are biodegradable.” In order to really make the experience eco-friendly, consider visiting a local tree farm to reduce emissions from travel and compost your tree rather than sending it to a landfill. 


5. If you do buy a fake Christmas tree, purchase responsibly! 

Not all plastic Christmas trees are created equal. One brand, Oncor, (available on Amazon!) makes 100% recycled fake Christmas trees that can be reused for decades! Extending on the last point, make sure to make the most of a fake tree by reusing it for many many years, which will help offset its environmental impact. If used long enough, there is a break-even point where real and fake Christmas trees will have similar environmental impacts, though the exact point at which this occurs is heavily debated.


6. Watch the thermostat

As the temperature starts to dip and the snow begins to fall, we often feel inclined to instantly jack up the thermostat. However, heating our homes is a huge producer of CO2 emissions. By turning down the temperature, you not only help the planet, but you can significantly cut your energy bill. So rather than reaching for the thermostat, reach for a sweater this winter!


7. Reduce food waste and eat sustainably

Holiday meals, cookie exchanges, parties and more are all major contributors to the surplus of food waste we produce around the holidays. One of my favorite ways to avoid this is to get creative with leftovers! Some ideas include making turkey and gravy sandwiches, freezing cookies to enjoy weeks in the future, cooking a big soup with leftover veggies and turkey, and much more! When the holidays are over, remember to donate extra canned and non-perishable goods to your local food pantry or food bank. When shopping for ingredients, look for organic and Fair-Trade labels when applicable, and seek out products in recyclable packaging. When purchasing meats, look for free-range and grass-fed labels. An important disclaimer to note, however, is that labels can be incredibly misleading. Often times, the best option is to buy meat and eggs from local farms, where you know it has been produced sustainably. 

These tips just scratch the surface of the plethora of ways we can take care of our planet this holiday season. With the help of both older and younger generations, we can adapt existing holiday traditions to ensure a reliable and healthy future with many more holiday seasons.

Cover photo courtesy of Pixabay

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