Do The Work: Cleaning Up Your Holidays
The holiday season is in full swing now, and with that comes the surge of human derived attacks on the environment. The world is in a state of crisis- climate change is rapidly showing the severity of our situation and a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we have 12 years to get climate change under control before we are too late- and it wouldn’t surprise me if it came even sooner. Does that absolutely fucking terrify you? Because it should. As a twenty year old I am scared to death knowing that unless we make this an URGENT priority, my early thirties may be consumed with experiencing what could be the end of our own planet- there is no guarantee any of us make it out of what may happen.
From Thanksgiving to New Years, Americans create 25% more waste than any other period during the year. That waste adds up to around 25 million tons of garbage. Between food waste, shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper, bows, and ribbons we add up to an additional 1 million tons a week into our landfills. Travel increases create a million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Energy use is at an all time high during this time with our extensive light displays. These statistics are proof that our beloved traditions are doing more harm than good. How can we promote a season of “Peace on Earth” when we are actively destroying it at the same time?
This post isn’t another read and forget with only a half serious attitude. I am here screaming as loud as I can. HEAR ME. I am a human just like yourself, begging you to care. I am begging you to stop being lazy, saying “I’ll start next year”. I am begging you to WAKE UP. Do the work. Demand change from corporations and our government. Make the small changes in your own life to go green. Our immediate future lives depend on it. Don’t wait until it is too late.
There are a wide variety of resources on how to go green during the holidays in all categories. Just a quick google search will provide you with almost everything you need to know from changing your lights to LED’s to reusing your packaging materials. Here is my quick breakdown on some of the main topics + some ideas on how you too can start to clean up your holidays:
WASTE + CONSUMERISM
Undoubtedly one of the biggest aspects of the holiday season is gift giving. Giving gifts is a fun tradition, but statistics show that at least 60% of Americans receive gifts they don’t want, and 70% would be cool with less emphasis on gift giving. We need to dramatically change what we give, and how we give it. The obvious answers here is reducing + reusing when it comes to our gift wrapping. But what about the gifts themselves?
Gift giving is a complex task that is different for everyone. You may find it particularly easy to pick for some, and be at a complete blank for others. A major portion of stress during the holidays comes from the “joy of giving”, and the average person spends $800 on presents. With the majority being stressed, broke, and in abundance of unwanted and unneeded items, once the celebrations come to a close it really is no surprise that January + February are the highest months for seasonal depression. However, these are things we are doing to ourselves, and are completely solvable.
Have a discussion with those you plan to celebrate with this holiday season. Decide if you want to continue the tradition in a more eco-friendly way or choose to skip the gifts all together. Take time to also assess who is all on your shopping list and make a plan on what you think would be the best gift. Chances are you are overspending on people, and there may even be some on your list who don’t really need to be there at all. Is it really necessary to buy your friend or family member you talk to once a year a present? Probably not.
Stop giving gifts people don’t want by communicating about what they would like- if it is appropriate. The best gifts are usually the most personal ones that show your genuine love and interest in that person- or at least the gift they asked for.
Shop local. Shop handmade. Shop small businesses. Shop Native American + other POC. Buy your gifts by supporting your friends and family who are artists and own their own businesses. Shop second hand + vintage. Shop fair trade items. Change your gift giving process to a more intentional + thoughtful place.
Buy QUALITY. Even if your gift is a good gift, you should always ask yourself if it can stand the test of time. If it is made cheaply or has a short duration you can know that your gift is only short term, and will most likely end up in the trash sooner than later. That also means, do not buy something for someone just because you heard it was the latest “trend”- that is a sure way to know your gift won’t make a lasting impact.
The best way to give environmentally friendly presents + motivate others to go green? Give green gifts! Reusable totes, water bottles, + straws. Potted plants. Maybe even the gift of a year pass to the national parks? There are a ton of awesome ways to give green.
2. FOOD WASTE
Cooking? Use this helpful resource to know exactly how much to make for your guests to prevent a large amount of leftovers + food waste. When you hit the grocery store buy bulk items (bonus if you bring your own containers), and buy as much locally produced items as you can. On average, food travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate.
If you do buy food products that come with added waste, find a way to reuse those items or at least make sure to recycle them properly! Montana for example only accepts plastics numbered 1 + 2.
Skip the paper plates and plastic utensils, cups, ect. Make the effort to buy reusable materials that can be rewashed, or ask your guests to bring their own reusable materials. This includes food storage items!
Stores begin to fill with decorations months before the actual holiday. We tend to fall for the abundance of cute things we see to spruce up our spaces, but most of the time the decorations we are pouring money into are cheap, plastic, and definitely not lining up with the real reasons for the season.
Go green with your decorations by turning your influence back to nature. Use natural materials that can be reused or composted.
DIY your holiday decorations to put a personal and more meaningful touch into your space. Bonus points if you use upcycled materials!
Artificial trees originally posed as a great waste free alternative, but they actually contribute three times more impact on climate change and resource use than a natural tree. Natural trees aren’t perfect either however, with 30 million going into the landfill after their use. I think that we should all change our traditions over to finding a ritual around using a live potted tree! One that you can keep as a houseplant or plant back into the ground after the holidays- can you image if the 50 million natural trees that are bought every year were planted back into the ground instead of chopped + wasted?
ENERGY USE + GREENHOUSE GASES
The way we use energy from our homes to on the road is also in need a major revamp.
Cut down on energy costs at home by switching over to LEDs, power strips, timers, and if you’re decorating the yard consider using solar operated lights. Skip the batteries or switch to rechargeable ones.
Travel plays a major role in greenhouse gas emissions. If each family cut down just one gallon of gas use during the holidays, we would reduce emissions by one million tons. Travel smart by mapping out your destinations + shopping lists to prevent excess driving, and make sure to turn off the car when not in use. Carpool, ride your bike or walk, and take advantage of public transportation.
When buying gifts online, or sending some to loved ones far away, opt for ground shipping as air transport uses up a significant amount of more fuel.
To accomplish real change in our holidays, we must demand it from the suppliers, organizers, and regulators. We must demand change from not only ourselves, but from our friends, family, and communities. We all know that convenience plays a large role in how we conduct our holidays. But convenience is destroying our planet, and if we want to have convenient solutions those solutions must include thought about the environment.
To start seeing the change we want in the things we buy, we must demand that the companies we support are using eco-conscious + ethical practices. Spend some time this holiday season sending emails to all of the businesses you love and ask them how they are incorporating green into their business. Demand eco-friendly packaging or none at all. Demand they stop selling products that hurt our environment. Demand fair wages to workers. Taking the time to learn who and what you are giving your money to is crucial.
If you are attending any events, reach out to organizers to see how they will be conducting the event in a green friendly way. Offer to help with this process if needed.
Call your local representatives to demand they support a green new deal. “A Green New Deal can get us off fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy over the next decade in a way that prioritizes the needs of low-income and people of color communities who have been on the frontlines of climate impacts. It can put people back to work earning a family-wage. It's a bold, progressive solution at the scale of the crisis we face.”
There are hundreds of ways in which you can change how you celebrate your Holidays in a cleaner way. I’m sure I didn’t cover every option and topic, but that wasn’t the point. The point is to make sure that we all start to make the changes necessary to save our planet. I hope this post provided you with some ideas + resources so that you can take this knowledge and apply it from your own life to those around you.