Pumpkin is appearing in everything and the changing leaves are putting on quite the performance. In other words, the holiday season is HERE! There’s nothing more valuable than spending the next couple of months with loved ones, but all of this holiday cheer does come with an impact. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, more than 1 million tons of extra trash end up in landfills each week.
Here at Rhythm, we say ‘tis the season... for sustainability and fortunately, you don’t have to become a holiday Scrooge to do your part. Here’s how to have a more sustainable holiday season—while keeping it as joyful as ever.
15 Tips to Have a More Sustainable Holiday: Gifts
1. Give Gifts with a Positive Impact
Allow your loved ones to open up a gift that keeps on giving this holiday season. Shop locally, or choose gifts that are made sustainably or support a global artisan with fair trade wages. Check out our green gift guide for more unwrappable ideas.
2. Explore Alternatives to Wrapping Paper
Speaking of wrapping paper, it’s about time we came up with an alternative because, Americans use a whopping 4.6 million pounds of it every year (the majority of which isn’t recyclable). Instead, consider using newspapers, magazines, old boxes, butcher paper, or even an old chip bag! If you do stick with the original, do your best to save and reuse it.
3. Ditch the Greeting Cards
Picture a football field, filled 10 stories high… that’s the 2.65 billion Christmas cards sent by Americans every year! Greeting cards are difficult to recycle (think: glitter and attached ribbons), making biodegradable seed paper greeting cards a far better alternative. Or, skip the greeting cards all together and send a heart-felt message digitally.
4. Surprise Your Loved Ones with Experiences
In 2020, roughly 13% of all merchandise sold during the holidays was returned—many items arriving after they’re in season, meaning 90% can’t be resold and may end up in landfills. Do away with potential waste by gifting an experience—like a MasterClass subscription, weekend away with an Airbnb gift card, or even a DIY coupon book with offers to help clean the house or watch the kids.
5. Continue Celebrating with a Re-Gift Swap Party
The cold, grey, early months of 2022 can use some excitement—what better excuse to keep the celebrations coming? We’ve all been underwhelmed when unwrapping, so a re-gift swap party is the perfect way to recycle presents! You can turn it into a fun game and donate anything that remains unwanted at the end of the party.
How to Have a More Sustainable Holiday: Food
6. Don’t Go Overboard
At 24%, food makes up the highest proportion of materials that end up in the trash during the holidays. In fact, around 204 million pounds of edible turkey meat alone is wasted after Thanksgiving. The Clean Plate Club is back—don’t be afraid to serve less and consider using NRDC’s Guest-Imator to plan an adequate amount for your holiday meals.
7. Support Alternative Food Systems
The average meal will travel 1,500 miles before it reaches your plate. Obvious fossil fuel requirements and negative environmental impact aside, this also impacts the nutrition and flavor of food. Instead, opt for seasonal, locally-grown produce and use the holidays as a reason to check out a farmer’s market or support a farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.
8. Eat More Plants
Meat tends to be the star of the holiday feast, but starting a new plant-based tradition has the impact of saving around 200,000 gallons of water and the emissions equivalent of driving 3,000 miles in a car! For a main meal, consider a lentil vegetarian shepherd’s pie, served with vegan green bean casserole and vegan gingerbread men! The options are endless, and you’ll likely learn about new foods in the process.
9. Get Creative with Leftovers
Leftover veggie scraps can be turned into broth, some meal ingredients and leftover meals can be donated (check with your local food bank first), and fruits, vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds, and tea bags can be composted. There are several opportunities to keep food out of the trash can—and for good reason, around 30-40% of the U.S. food supply is wasted every year.
10. Sip Sustainably
Three cheers for better-for-Earth booze! Celebrating the holidays and clinking glasses go together like “egg” and “nog” so consider supporting local breweries or sustainable spirits manufacturers. When it comes to wine, check out The Wine Line from Mother Jones, which will let you know if opting for Californian-grown or European wine has a lower carbon footprint.
How to Have a More Sustainable Holiday: Entertainment & Travel
11. Get a Real Tree
While it may appear that a reusable tree is the greener option, it’s not! A typical Christmas tree will reach maturity at around 5 to 10 years, all the while absorbing a lot of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere! Unlike an artificial (plastic-based) tree, it can also biodegrade and some cities will even pick it up to be transformed into mulch.
12. Use LED Lights
While you string your house or tree in LED fairy lights, consider replacing all bulbs in the home. LEDs are safer, sturdier, use at least 75% less energy, and will save you money in the long run.
13. Get Outdoors to Save the Outdoors
Think the holidays can only be spent next to a cozy, crackling fire? Try enjoying that after a hike with loved ones, exploring a local park or forest. Because, like Richard Louv said, “We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see.”
14. Fly Coach
Due to the heavier seats and more space, flying in business class has an emissions impact three times higher than coach class. Go for cheaper tickets and use that savings to offset your holiday travel through Terrapass or CarbonFund.
15. Plan a Party that Gives Back
According to Martha Stewart, using “décor as a means to an end” is in this year. Envision a living room decorated to raise awareness—like wreaths and trees that remind us of deforestation loss—followed by a group donation to an organization like Rainforest Trust or One Tree Planted.
How to Have a More Sustainable Holiday—While Keeping it Fun
As can be seen by this list, you don’t have to turn up your nose at fun while keeping holiday celebrations planet-friendly. In fact, making sustainable swaps for some of your holiday favorites can create exciting new traditions. Like switching to a Rhythm energy plan backed by 100% renewable energy, a single decision can have a really positive impact. And that’s what holiday cheer is all about, isn’t it?