15+ Tips for a More Sustainable Holiday

15+ Tips for a More Sustainable Holiday

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

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This adage echoes in my earliest memories of elementary school and is the foundation of the beginnings of my awareness around sustainability and my responsibility as a steward of this earth. When I hear this phrase, I do not think of it as a linear progression; I think of it as a circular concept with each component playing an equal part. This is probably due to the familiar symbol emblazoned on our minds in which the three little arrows go round and round.

If you are like me, this symbol is synonymous with recycling, its companions Reduce and Reuse lost in the emphasis that all this waste – this plastic, this paper, this box, this bottle – can just be recycled. The truth of it is, it is meant to be a linear progression, or really more of a pyramid if you will. Firstly, and most often, we should reduce our consumption, buy only what we actually need. Then reuse whatever we can for as long as we can. Then, as an absolute last resort, we recycle. As featured in one of my new favorite blogs, The Zero Waste Collective, we can go further to say:

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  1. Refuse: my favorite example is to refuse plastic straws in restaurants

  1. Reduce

  2. Reuse

  3. Repair: can it be fixed? Take your shoes to a cobbler. Take your microwave to a repair shop.

  4. Recycle

  5. Rot: start composting your food waste.

The thing is most plastics cannot be recycled. And of those that can, the vast majority are only able to be recycled once. ONCE! So let that vague feeling of smugness, that invigorating sense of accomplishment you feel when putting your plastic water bottle in the recycling, let it fade to a panging urgency to change up how you use - or don’t use - single use plastics.

Let’s explore some of the latest stats, courtesy of the terribly difficult to navigate EPA website. The most recent data available is from 2015 and was published earlier this year. You can peruse the PDF summary here.

  • We produce an average of over 4 pounds of trash per person, per day. PER. PERSON. EVERY. DAY.

  • We are only recycling about 25% of what can be recycled. To put it another way: we are throwing away almost 75% of what can be recycled.

  • Paper accounted for over 13% of landfill waste.

  • Plastics accounted for over 18% of landfill waste.

  • Food accounted for 22% of landfill waste.

People! This is madness!!! Haven’t you seen Wall-E?!

Recycle your paper! Print double sided! Better yet, just take a screenshot and move on!

Stop buying plastic water bottles! O.M.G. Please just stop. Aluminum is more sustainable plus you can take way cooler Instagram photos with your La Croix can. C’mon.

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Eat your leftovers! Compost! Stop making so much extra food! Plan your grocery list better. We are throwing away money when we throw food away.

I know that this topic may seem a far cry from what it seems this blog should be about. Sustainability is a topic very close to my heart. And it is central to how I live my life and the decisions I make as a mom. Our children are the future. We must bequeath them the best version of it that we can and give them the tools to do the same.

The holidays are rife with waste as consumerism runs rampant. And it’s not just all the stuff. It’s the stuff our stuff is wrapped in. It’s the packaging and bubble wrap and boxes and peanuts and tissue paper and wrapping paper covered in glitter and the ribbon and the plastic wrap and the twenty air puff things Amazon felt necessary to pad that super breakable blanket I ordered.

So what is a person to do? Single use things are so eeeeasyyy, Rachel! WAAAAHHH. Okay. Here’s some food for thought:

Poster by Max Tempkin

Poster by Max Tempkin

Just think about that for a moment. Wow.

I could wax poetic about this for days - and I will - but in the meantime, here are my 15 plus ideas to have a more sustainable holiday season:

  1. Buy 4 gifts using this model: something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.

  2. Just do stocking stuffers.

  3. Do a Secret Santa: instead of everyone giving everyone presents each person is assigned just one person

  4. Gift experiences:

    • Movie tickets.

    • An escape room adventure.

    • A weekend getaway.

    • Plan a trip with your kids based on what they will be learning in school the following semester or year.

  5. Gift coupons for favors:

    • Babysitting.

    • Pie.

    • Fixing the sink.

    • Installing the trim around the glass block window I put in last summer.

    • Dad, if you have me for Secret Santa that last one is a fantastic choice.

  6. Gift a library card: inspire sustainability and a love of reading at the same time!

  7. Wrap your gifts with a gift!

    • Gift a scarf, some dish towels, or table linens and try your hand at the Japanese art of Furoshiki.

    • Gift a reusable shopping bag.

    • Wrap stocking stuffers in festive socks.

  8. Hit up your local antique shop and discover a hidden gem.

  9. Utilize thrift stores for toys or clothes: ThredUP has great items for boy, girls, and women including accessories and jewelry from high-end brands.

  10. Donate your gently used items (toys, coats, bikes) to a family in need.

  11. Wrap your presents with gift bags, tissue paper, and cloth ribbon that you saved from gifts you’ve received over the past year.

  12. Wrap your presents with newspaper (bonus points for the comics section!).

  13. Buy sustainably made wrapping paper that can be recycled. Metallic, textured, and glittery paper are a no-no.

  14. Forgo ribbon, or buy cloth ribbon you can reuse next year.

  15. Set up a paper bag to collect all the recyclables and place them in as you unwrap. This is a great way to get toddlers and kids involved in the cleanup and teach them about sustainability and stewardship. Win-win!

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So these are some suggestions, some places to start, some things to consider. It can sometimes be overwhelming for me to think how to even get started but teaching my children the importance of be responsible consumers, to take seriously the charge of stewardship, is something that I am passionate about. We ascribe to the four gift practice. We seek to be mindful in our choices and to strive to be better – we are not perfect. We have not achieved zero waste. But we are thinking about it and finding ways to make our carbon footprint a little smaller each year. And we have these conversations in front of our children, with our children.

Here is my challenge to you: Start a new holiday tradition this year. Pick one thing that you are not already doing to reduce your waste this holiday season. Just one. And give the earth a little love this holiday season.

Have questions? Comments? Feedback? I’d love to hear from you.

Sylvia Plath called and she wants her brooding darkness back.

Sylvia Plath called and she wants her brooding darkness back.

Gift Giving: As Easy as 1-2-3-4

Gift Giving: As Easy as 1-2-3-4