Yes, it’s the time of year for holiday celebrations and our suggestions for greening them. Keep these tips in mind to improve the sustainability of your gatherings for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa & New Year’s Eve, whether you’re hosting a traditional family gathering or simply attending an event with friends. You’ll feel better remembering that in 2022, you did your best to keep your festivities environmentally friendly and healthy.
We suggest talking with others about what you’re doing to be sustainable and why. We’ll divide our tips into groups: holiday food, holiday decorations and gifts, and holiday entertaining.
The first rule for holiday food is to try to source your favorites locally and organically. If you can’t, consider why that is and whether you should try alternatives.
Often holiday food traditions start with fare that’s locally plentiful; for Thanksgiving and Christmas, San Francisco started a Dungeness crab tradition, because crabs were available locally, and the tradition attracted tourists to Fisherman’s Wharf. Sadly, crab fishing season has been starting later to protect humpback whales from getting tangled in crabbing gear, and crab fishers say it may become the “new normal”. But the example of making a food product of local abundance into a holiday tradition is still a great idea.
Pesticides in food can disrupt hormones and cause cancer and nervous system issues. A good reference for which foods are grown with the most pesticides is in the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen, while the ones that usually use less are on their Clean Fifteen. Buy all ingredients organic when you can afford it, but especially make the effort, when needed, to buy the Dirty Dozen in organic form. Plan your meals carefully to avoid buying too much, and remember to freeze or reuse leftovers! Compost the remainder.
Often we forget that we indirectly yet measurably can save a lot of water by eating a less meat-heavy menu. Take a look at this listing of how much water is required to produce one pound of each:
Also remember that using real dishware and cutlery does require some washing, but it’s worth it to avoid single-use plastics that can take centuries to break down. Further, dishwashers are efficient, requiring only a fraction (sometimes as little as one-ninth) of the water needed for hand washing.
Holiday Decorations & Gifts
Most LED string lights, including all those that are Energy Star certified, use 75% as much energy or less than traditional incandescent string lights. They’re also less likely to overheat and start fires. Although they have a higher cost to purchase, they cost much less to operate. In short, if you’re still using strings of incandescent bulbs, it’ll be time to replace them soon!
Of course, the Christmas tree can be an essential winter holiday decoration. Try to avoid purchasing artificial trees: they often contain PVC and/or steel, and aren’t truly recyclable. Even the American Christmas Tree Association, an industry group representing companies in the Christmas tree industry, says that you’ll have to use an artificial tree for at least four years to balance its environmental impact versus using natural trees; others claim that since artificial trees can’t be recycled, they can’t ever be as sustainable as real trees.
You can often rent a live Christmas tree and have it delivered to many locations in California, or you can choose to buy a potted live tree. Live trees can be planted and contribute to an ecosystem for years. If this isn’t possible in your situation, follow your city, town, or waste management company’s instructions for recycling or composting your tree.
Consider giving gifts that don’t use much wasteful packaging: a donation to an organization, an online subscription, or an experience like a pass or passes to national or state parks. Also consider handcrafts and locally-made gifts. If you do give a physical item, try to make it small but memorable without much packaging waste.
If you do give gifts that need wrapping, consider wrapping them in gift bags and cloth ribbon that are reusable. If you need to use paper, consider colorful pages from a magazine or the newspaper comics section. If you do end up purchasing wrapping paper, check that it contains high recycled paper content and avoid metallic decorations like foils and glitter, which aren’t recyclable with paper.
When it’s time to clean up, make sure to use machine-washable cloths and brush-heads as well as abrasive scrub brushes and sponges. Use squeegees for windows and shower doors. You can find many Tru Earth sustainable cleaning product options at the Tru Earth SSV page.
Many DIY cleaning products can be made using white vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, fragrance-free liquid soap and dish detergent (though not an anti-bacterial variety), and washing soda (sodium carbonate). Make sure to wear gloves when using washing soda.
Avoid bleach and “quat”-based disinfectants (quaternary ammonium compounds). Avoid air fresheners and instead open windows and use fans and baking soda for fresher air. Avoid caustic drain cleaners by making your own fizzy drain cleaner (½ cup vinegar & ½ cup baking soda).
Peace on Earth and Peace of Mind
When you feel like you’ve done all you can to contribute to sustainable holidays, you’ll have peace of mind looking back at 2022 as a year that you did what you could for more environmentally friendly and healthy holidays. Along with warm holiday memories, we bet you’ll feel good about having led by example and having discussions with your family and friends. Later, if you think of something you could have done better, don’t despair. Let us know and keep it noted for improvement in 2023!