Dear Eartha, I love holidays. I love baking a ton of cookies, decorating my house, and wrapping photo shoot-worthy gifts. I realize it’s wasteful, but I’m not ready to give up my holiday traditions. Do you have any advice for me?
There’s no shame in celebrating the holidays and sharing your giving spirit. I commend you for considering the impact your holiday traditions have. After all, waste accumulates quickly. In fact, Americans throw away 25% more trash during the holiday season., adding up to 1 million tonnes of additional waste every week. Instead of abandoning your favorite traditions, try making small, easy tweaks that cut down on waste and spread the holiday spirit.
Cook for a crowd
For people who love holiday baking and cooking but don’t have a big family to feed, you can put your talents to good use: donating food platters to the weekly Father Dyer Community Dinner in Breckenridge. Whip up a few casseroles of your favorite side dishes or bake cookies to your liking without worrying about the goods going to waste. To register, visit FatherDyer.com and click on “volunteer”. You don’t have to stop cooking when the holidays are over. The team serves community meals every Sunday and welcomes food donations throughout the year.
For many, the holidays are synonymous with festive illuminations. In 2008, the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration found that Christmas lights accounted for 6.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity consumption each year. That’s enough energy to power 800,000 homes for a year, and that’s more than the annual consumption of some entire countries!
I’d like to think that now, 13 years later, most of us have switched to LED string lights. But if not, now is the time to upgrade. Not only do LEDs last longer, but they consume approximately 80% less energy than conventional string lights. This means that the few extra dollars you spend on LED string lights will likely pay for themselves within a season in a cheaper electric bill, even inside a small condo. If you opt for outdoor lighting displays, you could save $100 or more each season. There are many online calculators to help you figure out how much.
When thinking about arranging your space, avoid plastic waste that gets thrown away every season. I know, those cheap dollar “steals” are tempting, but instead of the so-called reusable gel window stickers that are covered in lint (and cat hair), opt for something more natural instead. A potted poinsettia is easy to care for, and the festive red foliage returns every holiday season. Or put floating soy candles in a bowl of water with fresh cranberries and presto: an elegant centerpiece. (You can even compost the cranberries after the centerpiece has lived its fullest life.)
Getting crafty with wrapping paper
Even I’m a sucker for an expertly wrapped gift. But gifts don’t need to be wrapped in new paper and metallic ribbons. Paint newspaper, reuse children’s artwork, decorate brown paper shopping bags, tie up a few small twigs for a natural look, or even wrap the gift in a tea towel. For artisans around the world, the possibilities are endless.
Don’t like gift wrapping? Save and reuse old gift bags. Seriously, if nothing else, save some money and reuse what you have in your recycling bin. Once the gifts are opened, save all those fabulous ribbons, bows and usable wrapping paper. And find out if the rest is recyclable. HighCountryConservation.org offers a “Party Recycling Tips” page for details on how to dispose of wrapping paper, fairy lights, old electronics and more.
Whether you celebrate or work during the holidays, or maybe a bit of both, think about how your traditions can give back to the planet and the community.
“Ask Eartha Steward” is written by the staff of the High Country Conservation Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit your questions to Eartha at email@example.com.