Take a deep breath amid the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations and look around. Every day you recycle, compost, drive an electric car to work, bike everywhere else, take three-minute showers in a room illuminated by low-energy bulbs, wash with paraben-free 100% biodegradable shampoo, water your yard from a rain barrel and buy organic food from the farmer’s market.
For 48 weeks out of the year you live an eco-friendly life, as green as you can be and it’s no problem. Then Thanksgiving hits.
From eco-friend to eco-foe, overnight
Suddenly, you’re transformed. Plastic bags are found lurking in your backseat after trips to the market, canned foods, paper towels, Ziploc sacs, and disposable dishware litter the kitchen. When Black Friday hits you’re too far gone to stop yourself from charging the door at every big box store in town for the best deals. As left-overs waste away in the fridge, you buy things you don’t need for people you hardly know, possessed by the sale signs, and when you finally get home, you’re too exhausted to stop showering until the water goes cold.
What’s happened? Where has the other you, that careful, conscientious cohabitant of the earth, gone? It’s not uncommon for even the most devout environmentalists to falter during the holiday season, but with a few careful choices, you can easily align your holidays with your everyday.
Consumption is waste
You probably already understand the correlation between consumerism and waste. A single gift from the toy store (even if it’s not on super sale, even if you buy it on a random Tuesday instead of Black Friday) can carry a heavy carbon footprint and, may contain chemicals and toxins. It’s unlikely to efficiently biodegrade, was probably made in a sweatshop overseas where labor is cheap and workers are suffering, and is strangled in nasty plastics even before you add paper wrapping. So what to do?
Luckily, the gift giving conundrum has many solutions. Here are a few:
- Homemade gifts: Canned foods, baked goods, naturally made soaps, crafted jewelry, or knitwear
- Heirloom gifts: Quilts, jewelry, books, photographs, and even clothing that can be passed down through generations
- Experience gifts: Lunch at a local restaurant, a spa treatment at a green salon, or museum/park memberships
- Service gifts: Cooking a dinner, offering to babysit, washing a car, or weeding a garden
- Agreement gifts: Family or friends promise to donate a certain amount of time or money to a cause important to the other
If you decide to give store-bought gifts, buy local, take a single day and devote it to shopping (so you don’t require multiple, wasteful trips), and always use recycled materials for wrapping paper.
Decorations aren’t deadly
Try to remain level-headed about holiday decor. Sure, lights are fun, but they’re also horribly inefficient and almost impossible to buy from a local artisan. So, if you must illuminate your home, try shopping for lights at a locally owned hardware store, only use strands with energy-saving LED bulbs, and make sure to set a timer so they only glow between dusk and bed time.
What about the tree?
While it might seem environmentally conscious to erect a fake tree, year after year, the reality is quite the opposite. Most Christmas trees are farmed for the exclusive purpose of adorning your home, so instead driving your car all the way to Home Depot for a faux, try embracing your local organic tree farmer. Keeping carbon footprint in mind is a good way to know which option is more ecologically sound.
Once you’ve finished with your tree, locate a recycling center, or chop it up into firewood for yourself or to donate. If you really want to improve the sustainability of the tree ritual, start planting your own Christmas trees. It’s not as hard as it sounds!
Travel with a clean conscience
If you travel to see family for your holiday, don’t fret. The holiday season is one of the busiest for travel, especially flying, which technically makes it the most environmentally friendly season to fly.
Look at it this way: the airplane is going to take off, half-empty or full, so full is the preferable option. Now, the math necessarily doesn’t absolve you of guilt, so consider paying to help offset the carbon emissions of your flight, and see if that doesn’t help ease your mind.
Enjoy your holiday, your way
Remember, when all is said and done the holiday season is about sharing joy and spreading peace. Acclimating yourself to celebrating the holiday in a way that is environmentally and socially sound isn’t always easy, and it’s always worse to burn out on stress and anxiety than it is to accidentally leave the Christmas lights glowing overnight.