While the holidays are near, it is important to be conscious of sustainable holiday practices. During the month of December, households’ waste increases by about 25%, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Here are some things that you can do to support the environment during the holidays.
Opting for a real trees or renting one
Although artificial Christmas trees are convenient and reusable, creating them produces more than twice the amount of greenhouse emissions than a real tree, according to the Carbon Trust Organization. This is due to the fact that artificial trees are made out of PVC plastic, which is produced by burning fossil fuels. Live Christmas trees are a better option than artificial ones. They still have a significant carbon footprint, but if incinerated instead of decomposed in a landfill, their carbon footprint is decreased by 80%, according to The Carbon Trust Organization. Local recycling centers usually have incinerators and can dispose of your tree. Renting a tree is one of the best options because the tree’s roots stay intact, so it can be replanted. There are many Christmas tree rental businesses online that will deliver a tree to your house and when you are done with it, they will pick it up.
Switching to LED lights and decorations
As holiday celebrations entail lights on Christmas trees or for decorating the house, Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are significantly more efficient than traditional Fluorescent Incandescent Lights. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LEDs use 75% less energy and last more than 20 times longer. Additionally, they are safer because they are not hot to the touch, so they do not start fires as easily. “I use the LED lights to decorate my Christmas tree because they are easy to reuse every year, they look very pretty and they are energy efficient,” Nicole Lee ‘24 said.
Burning clean menorah candles
As reported by the EPA, petroleum paraffin candles are sources of indoor air pollution. Petroleum paraffin based candles are byproducts of unrenewable crude oil. Burning these candles are harmful to the environment, in addition to your health. A church that had burned petroleum paraffin candles on a regular basis was found to have pollution levels higher than that of high-traffic roads and carcinogenic hydrocarbons in the air, reports Maastricht University in a 2004 study. Alternatives include beeswax, soy and coconut wax candles because they are renewable and biodegradable. “There are also pros and cons of soy candles. Soy can be grown sustainably. Soy may also come from farms that are the result of rain forest destruction… A safe bet would be beeswax or coconut candles,” Daniella Ellingson, a sponsor of the school’s Environmental Club, said.
Switching to environmentally friendly wrapping paper
About 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper end up in landfills in the U.S., according to Earth 911. “There are different types of wrapping paper,” Ellingson said. “Any kind that is laminated or has glitter is not recyclable, and will just take up space in a landfill. In general, the matte kind is recyclable. Tissue paper is, as well, unless it has glitter or any metal decoration. Gift bags and ribbon are often not recyclable, as well.”
Brown/kraft wrapping paper is a great option because it decomposes faster than regular wrapping paper, according to TreeHugger. Using fabric to wrap gifts, furoshiki, is another sustainable option because the fabric can be reused. Although it is important to note that,“Polyester is made from petroleum, so if your goal is to move away from fossil fuel products, avoid any fabric made of polyester or derivatives,” Ellingson said.
Reuse family heirlooms
Something as simple as reusing family heirloom decorations makes a big impact. “My paternal grandmother has a lot of heirloom ancient bowls and we use them occasionally for holiday meals and my cousins also have the heirloom menorah,” Arden Doyle ‘24 said. “I think holidays are about family and especially since right now it is hard to see family, using heirlooms is a way to get closer to your roots and family that you are unable to see and also the earth is dying from waste created during the holidays.”
By reusing decorations, the amount of waste created in manufacturing products is reduced. “The more we purchase, the more plastic could be involved, the more waste will be produced, the more pollution will be produced. And the more waste we all have, the higher the chance that some of that waste won’t be disposed of properly,” Ellingson said.
Recycling whenever possible
Sometimes you cannot avoid creating waste during the holidays, so it is important to recycle what you can. The average recycling contamination rate is 25% which means one out of four items thrown in a recycling bin isn’t recyclable as per Waste Management, a Trash collecting company based in the U.S. It is important to be educated about what can be recycled and what can’t. Furthermore, additional information about your county’s recycling policies can be found on their Department of Public Works website.
Focusing on our consumption will decrease the amount of complicated recycling that needs to be done. “Waste is really indicative of consumption, which brings up so many variables related to the environment, environmental justice, and climate change… ever since China and other East Asian countries stopped taking most of our recycling, we just haven’t come up with good recycling infrastructure,” Ellingson said. “Not to mention, most of the recycling we have is contaminated by other waste and therefore unusable. So if we limit our consumption, we can limit our waste, even the stuff that would ordinarily be recycled.”