The holiday season is typically one when everything is done bigger and better. Excess may run supreme, and for those who are concerned about how their actions impact the environment, such excess can clash with their ideals.
The following are some effects the holidays can have on the environment and changes anyone can make to still enjoy the festivities and help the planet at the same time.
• Trash: From gift wrap to cards to disposable decorations, trash has a way of piling up during the holiday season. According to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Americans generate 25 percent more waste per week between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than during the rest of the year. This creates an additional 1.2 million tons of trash per week, or an extra six million tons throughout the holiday season. Cutting back on trash is one of the easiest steps a person can take to reduce his or her environmental impact. Purchase cards or paper made from recycled, post-consumer content and printed with nontoxic inks. Choose postcards that do not need a separate envelope for mailing. Use reusable decorations, dinnerware, boxes, and bags to prevent extra garbage from ending up in landfills. Bring your own fabric shopping bags to use in place of plastic bags and, when prompted, choose to have your receipts emailed instead of printed to further reduce paper consumption.
• Food: Lavish meals are central components of holiday gatherings. Leftover food produces waste, so purchasing too much food or selecting products that were not locally produced can negatively affect the environment. Shipping food over long distances requires use of fuel and other natural resources. In some instances, products shipped from other countries may harbor parasites or insects not native to this country, and such unwanted guests can prove harmful to local ecosystems.
To meet the extraordinary supply demands of the holiday season, food suppliers may beef up livestock and produce with artificial hormones, fertilizers and pesticides, all of which are detrimental to the environment. Shop wisely this time of year and only buy what you need, rather than cooking to impress. Choose locally grown or organic foods and inseason produce instead of exotic, imported fare. Promptly package and freeze leftovers so they can be enjoyed again.
• Decorating: It’s tempting to purchase ready-made, plastic imported holiday decorations. But these objects are not always the most sustainable options, and there are plenty of decorative items that have less impact on the planet. LED holiday lights, for example, use 90 percent less energy than traditional incandescent lights and can last up to 100,000 hours. Only keep lights on when you’re home and awake to save energy. Instead of purchasing new ornaments, make your own or host an ornament swap with friends. Create your own wreaths and centerpieces from natural materials found around the yard. Soy candles do not emit unsafe hydrocarbons and produce less soot than paraffin wax candles.
It is possible to enjoy the holidays and protect the planet at the same time. A few easy changes are all it takes to reduce your carbon footprint this holiday season.