With the twinkling lights, joyful music and glad gatherings, December celebrations mark, for many, the most wonderful time of the year. But let’s be honest: The holidays haven’t always been so kind to our wallets – not to mention the planet.
It’s long past time for that to change, so read on for environmentally-conscious, budget-savvy tips on everything from decorating to entertaining, traveling to gift-giving.
- Go green with the greenery. While you might think faux greens would automatically be the most environmental option, think again. The real versus artificial holiday tree conundrum is real, writes Melissa Breyer, Treehugger Editorial Director.
“Artificial trees take more resources to create and ship; meanwhile, their plastic parts can last for centuries in a landfill,” she writes. “Real trees can be purchased locally and are biodegradable, both important factors. But real trees take around seven years to grow and also consume resources. They are often grown on farms that use pesticides and other synthetic chemicals.”
Breyer notes that a fake tree might make sense if you are going to use it for 10 years or more, which, she writes, equals around the same carbon footprint as using a real tree each year. “For cut trees,” she notes, “opting for one from an organic farm is a great option; even better, use a live (native to your area) tree that can be planted after the holidays are over.”
- Reimagine the tree. “Another idea is to create a completely novel ‘tree’ out of your massive monstera plant or another vertical decorative item in your home. I love the idea of a non-traditional tree, but then decking the halls with festive boughs of whatever is in your winter garden,” notes Breyer.
- Lighten your load. If the holidays mean you’ll be traveling by air, “pack less whenever you can to avoid adding weight to the plane, resulting in less energy use,” advises Monique Valeris, Senior Home Editor at Good Housekeeping.
- Stay grounded. “If your destination isn’t too far, consider taking the bus, train or making a road trip out of it rather than flying,” Valeris writes. “These are all great alternatives to create memories with family and friends and you can also enjoy the beauty of a scenic route.”
- Keep a lid on it. If holiday travels have you staying at a hotel, Valeris advises thinking twice before opening every toiletry bottle provided: “If you have beauty samples from home that travel well, consider bringing those along to reduce waste.”
- Make a list, and check it twice. Nobody wants to run out of food when entertaining for the holidays, Breyer acknowledges. But, she notes, “having too much food can lead to food waste, which has a significant greenhouse-gas footprint and exacerbates climate change.” When shopping, have your meals planned and have a list of exactly what you need and how much, Breyer notes, adding that the “NRDC has a great calculator called the Guest-imator that helps you plan portion sizes more accurately.”
- Waste not, want not. When you’re cooking, she adds, be mindful of waste, noting that skins from onions and garlic, along with herb stems and pepper ribs, can be frozen and later used to make stock.
- Embrace the leftovers. Sarah Martens, Senior Editor at BHG.com, writes that in her house, “leftovers are arguably the best part of the meal.” She adds: “I like to send my guests home with muffin tins filled with leftovers. Everyone gets individual portions of their favorite dishes. We always make leftover sandwiches for lunch and a big veggie hash for breakfast.” When all else fails and you can’t eat another bite, Breyer suggests making ”‘TV dinners’ by plating leftovers into single-serving freezer-safe bowls and freezing the meals for an easy dinner down the road.”
- Share. Finally, Martens notes, if you have unopened ingredients that aren’t expired, consider donating them to a local food pantry for those in need.
- Use paper that’s really paper. If you are using wrapping paper, choose recyclable options, writes Martens, observing that if paper has glitter, foil, plastic or other non-paper decorations, the chances are that it can’t be recycled. “If I do use wrapping paper, I always make a handmade paper bow with the scraps to top my gifts,” she shares. “It coordinates with the package and helps save money on colorful toppers and ribbons. I also repurpose some of my children’s school artwork into handmade cards and gift tags. They add a personal touch and my kids love to see their creations under the tree.”
- Check your stash. Valeris recommends hanging onto any gift wrapping you’ve received throughout the year so you can try to reuse it during the holidays.
- And that’s a wrap. Martens shares that her favorite eco-friendly Christmas wrapping swap is using fabric instead of paper. She writes: “I scour thrift stores for vintage scarves in a variety of colors and patterns. Using scarves is my favorite shortcut—there’s no cutting required! A simple wrapping and knotting technique is all you need to create beautifully wrapped gifts. I find fabric is more forgiving than paper. It stretches around hard-to-wrap corners, covers oddly-shaped items, and doesn’t tear while you’re trying to use it. My family has been using the same scarves for years and they almost feel like family heirlooms.”
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