By Bailey Chenevert
This holiday season is in full swing. In spite of being in a global pandemic, this year still promises to be a season of spending. Getting that yuletide feeling can sometimes mean spending a lot of money on items in theme with the season. From decorations to sweet treats, the many favors expected of a rich holiday setting can often be wasteful, unsustainable and even unethical. Fortunately, we’ve highlighted some innovative alternatives you might consider adopting to decrease the negative impacts of your spending during this season of giving.
- Make a post-holiday disposal plan: For all of your decorations that aren’t synthetic (think trees, garland, and wreaths), the way in which you dispose of these items can have a bigger footprint then how or where you buy them. Putting it out on the curb with the rest of the trash isn’t the best option. When organic materials like Christmas trees decompose in landfills, they release a lot of methane gas into the atmosphere due to a lack of oxygen being surrounded by non-compostables. This is a big deal because one molecule of methane is as damaging as three molecules of CO2 in terms of harmful greenhouse gasses. Instead of throwing it away, consider other Christmas tree disposal options like recycling or mulching. This can reduce your tree’s carbon footprint by up to 80%. Most communities offer some form of tree recycling programs, and in some areas, recycling trees can have a major positive impact on offsetting erosion of endangered habitats such as lakes, wetlands, and rivers.
- Consider a living tree: Did you know that it can take approximately 15 years for a 6-7 ft Christmas tree to grow? So trees that you’re buying in 2020 were planted sometime between 2003-2008. While there are entire businesses and farms that rely on this industry with the intention of planting to eventually cut down, you may find that you’re part of a growing group of Christmas tree-lovers who have a hard time justifying this stat. Luckily, there is an evergreen solution that you can enjoy year after year: living trees. Potted Christmas trees can be brought inside during the holidays and planted outside for the rest of the year with proper care. Alternatively, If the idea of taking care of a living tree year round seems like too much hassle, you can always rent one instead.
- Minimum use of artificial trees: If you already purchased an artificial Christmas tree, the Carbon Trust suggests reusing it for at least ten years to ensure it has a lower environmental impact than a living tree.
- LEDs: If you can, consider switching to LED lights to brighten up the holidays. LEDs are some of the most energy-efficient and long lasting lights on the market. Compared to the traditional incandescent lighting, LED lighting uses 75% less energy and lasts 25% longer. To put it in perspective, the Department of Energy says widespread use of LED lighting by the year 2027 could save the same amount of energy as the annual electrical output of 44 large electric power plants.
- Give old lights new life: If you do decide to replace your old lights with LEDs, or you’re just throwing out old and tangled bulbs, consider recycling them. There are valuable materials like brass and copper in old Christmas lights, as well as several ways to recycle and reuse them. You can even get a discount on new LED lights by trading in the old ones at certain retailers.
- Reconsider the Retailer: For the practice of gift-giving, buying locally, going homemade, or shopping from online marketplaces like Etsy and Society6 have a more positive impact than shopping with retailers like Amazon or big-box stores. If you choose to shop locally and remove the need for international shipping, it has a better impact for the planet. If you choose to support independent artisans and retailers, it has a better impact for struggling small business during a pandemic. And if you choose the homemade route, it has a better impact on both your wallet and the recipient because of the love used to make it. If you’re still a big online shopper however, here’s a list of 15 sustainable and ethical marketplace alternatives to Amazon.
- Reusable and recyclable materials: It’s definitely possible for presents to look great while at the same time not being terrible for the environment. Stuff lying around the house can be creatively used to wrap, or skip the extra work entirely by buying beautiful recycled, compostable and plantable materials to adorn your gifts. Here’s a list of some of the best brands for eco-friendly wrapping paper, bows and strings.
- Let it grow: For cards, gift tags and letters, seed paper is a great alternative to standard stationery. Seed paper is a mix of paper-pulp and organic seeds that can be planted after use. You can buy it or make your own.
- Candy can be political: A good guide for sweets and stocking stuffers is the recent Cluey blog post on the political impact of Halloween candy. Major candy companies Mondelez International, MARS Inc. and The Hershey Company have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to political candidates and campaigns in the last three federal election cycles. Therefore, a purchase of these brands can be a political one. For apolitical sweets and treats, Ferrero, Haribo and Tootsie Roll Industries have funded no political campaigns in the last three election cycles. Make sure to use your Cluey app to ensure that the brands you buy are in line with your political values.
- Think back to Thanksgiving: If you’re not into the idea of making a tofurkey the center of your holiday dinner, there are other ways to reimagine big holiday meals to minimize negative impact. Columbia University’s guide to a more sustainable Thanksgiving dinner has great tips for any family meal that include shopping locally, buying organic produce, composting and reusing leftovers, and focusing more heavily on veggies and sides rather than dishes with meat.
Wine & Spirits
- Organic, biodynamic, and natural: Just like dinner, organic products are often the more eco-friendly choice for holiday libations. For an eco-conscious wine selection, consider shopping for bottles with organic, biodynamic or natural labels. Into mixology? Organic spirits can also provide an environmentally friendly buzz.
Setting the table
- Rent, compost, or recycle: When it comes to entertaining over the holidays, budgets and guests in attendance may vary. Unfortunately for tableware, the most budget and eco-friendly option is also the one that requires you to do the most dishes. Renting flatware, silverware, and glassware is a great alternative with multiple benefits. If disposables are the best option for your holiday needs this year, here’s a list of recyclable and compostable party supplies.
*Most importantly, to ensure there are plenty of holidays spent together in the years to come, we recommend either downsizing or reimaging your celebrations virtually in order to appropriately follow public health guidelines. Potentially the most thoughtful and impactful thing we can do for others this holiday season, is making these small sacrifices to keep everyone safe and healthy!
Bailey Chenevert is a freelance journalist and guest editorial contributor for Cluey Consumer. As a recent 2020 college graduate from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Bailey supplemented her studies as both a research assistant and a student editor at La Louisiane. Bailey is passionate about impartial reporting on consumerism and the impacts that fashion brands have on our modern world.