A Sustainable Guide to the Holidays
This year, have a happy and environmentally friendly holiday
This holiday season give a gift to yourself and your loved ones by making your festivities sustainable. Whether you live in a snow-blanketed region of the world or not, you can help ensure the season remains green by giving environmentally conscious gifts, reducing waste and saving energy.
The key to all of this is mindfulness, according to UL’s Environmental Sustainability Manager Ellen Shieh.
“That’s the theme throughout sustainability,” Shieh said. “Be more mindful of the waste you generate.”
Tree trimming takeaways
For those who celebrate Christmas, consider a live tree this year. Buying an evergreen with the roots still attached and placing it in a planter will extend the tree’s life past New Year’s Day. After the holidays, a live tree can be planted outside, but you should buy a tree suitable for your climate and soil — so the tree will thrive in its new home.
If you do buy a tree that’s been cut down, there is a way to still remain environmentally friendly. When the festivities are over, don’t throw your cut tree in with the trash.
“Trees are innately recyclable, because they’re just wood and leaves,” she said. “It’s a really easy solution, so it’s important to be mindful of the environment when the holidays are over.”
For recycling, you have a few options. If your municipality offers tree recycling, you can set the tree out for roadside pick-up or bring it to a recycling center yourself. Another option is to mulch the tree and use the wood chips around your yard, making use of something that could have been turned into landfill waste. For those with a soft spot for animals, the local zoo may be interested. Animals such as elephants, rhinos and other exotic animals love to play — and eat — discarded evergreens; so give your local zoo a call, you might make a monkey’s day.
Giving a greener gift
Part of the holiday season focuses on giving — and receiving — the perfect gift. This year, a more mindful approach to gift giving may be a present all by itself.
Start with the gift. Sometimes, a homemade gift can tell a person you appreciate and value them. Give something from your heart that you will be special to the receiver. It’s up to you whether that’s baked goods or a craft of your design. Shieh suggested making mason jars filled with brownie, cookie or hot cocoa mix.
“It’s cost effective and a lot more personable than having something store bought,” she said. “You’ll save a lot of money. And after the gift is all used up, the jar is reusable. So, the gift has a multipurpose element.”
If you don’t want to give a do-it-yourself gift, make your own baked goods — fresh snacks made with love are appreciated by everyone. She also suggested that a gift of your time, such as a voucher for a service or a lesson, could be enough to let someone know how much they mean to you.
After you’ve made — or purchased — your presents, then it’s time to wrap them. While a decorative and holiday-themed wrapping paper may seem like an obvious choice, store bought wrapping paper may not be the greenest option.
“A lot of wrapping paper isn’t recyclable due to the mix of foil and plastic materials,” she said. “Anything that has glitter isn’t recyclable.”
Shieh suggests using a reusable gift bag and adding a bow or using a brown bag from the grocery store, wrapping a present “like a text book from high school,” which after some decoration can sport personalized flair. Other materials, such as newspaper or magazines can be used to wrap gifts. All it takes is a little imagination and time.
To grandmother’s house we go … sustainably
Loads of people travel during the holiday. The AAA’s 2019 forecast estimates 49.3 million Americans will hit the road; 4.45 million will choose to fly; and 1.49 million will use trains, buses or cruise ships to get to their locations.
If you’re planning to be among this number, be mindful of how travel impacts the environment. Shieh proposes travelers may want to buy carbon offset credits to even out the carbon emissions caused by your travels. By buying a carbon offset, you’ll be donating to projects, such as renewable energy or planting trees. Oftentimes these projects have a secondary goal of preserving natural spaces; some even support projects in less developed countries, providing reliable employment in addition to helping environmental causes.
“By purchasing carbon offsets, you’re giving a gift to the Earth,” Shieh said.
SafeBee® Top Three
1. Recycle, mulch or donate your Christmas tree
2. Ditch the wrapping paper and use gift bags or wrap presents in paper bags, newspapers or magazines
3. Buy carbon offset credits to even out the impact your travels might have on the environment