Because extinction shouldn't be an option!

Friday, December 16, 2011

How to Go Green for the Holidays

It's that time of year again! Eggnog, stocking stuffers, and presents...for many this is the best or worst time season. Unfortunately, the past few decades have seen a ramp up in the commercialism of the holiday and Christmastime could almost be called Consumer-time.

So here is is, a few simple tips on how to be easy on the Earth this Christmas:

1. Stop Shopping!

Okay, okay. So this isn't exactly easy, but buying has become ingrained in our society as everything from a balm for our deepest woes, to a quick fix. Of course, gift giving is part of the Christmas tradition, so I am not saying don't get your kids or parents ANY presents. I just think we tend to overdo it. Keep it to one or two gifts, and make those gifts thoughtful. Even if you cannot resist the shopping spirit, read on about how to make your shopping methods more sustainable.

2. Shop Secondhand or from Locally-Owned Stores!

Shopping secondhand supports recycling. Truth is, we are running out of resources, for just about everything, whether it be cotton for clothes, metals for electronics, and of course, the water that goes into growing and/or mining and harvesting for materials to make our stuff. Buying secondhand items eases demand on the need to keep making new items and thereby slows demand on further developing land and squandering water and other resources. It also support recycling and is a way to avoid supporting sweatshop and slave labor (which, quite honestly, is the labor that produces the bulk of the stuff we buy). Despite what some believe, shopping secondhand doesn't mean poor quality. I have found everything from rare first or second edition books of modern classics at used book stores, to an awesome pair of suede boots that everyone thought I spent a month's rent on, all for the most bargain prices.

For electronics, it is especially important to try to buy secondhand, as heavy metal mining is a major cause of armed conflict overseas and causes incredible environmental devastation. Some websites, like Amazon and DotCells, offer used electronics in very good or mint condition, many with warranties in place (or for just an extra $40, you can purchase a warranty with Square Trade on Amazon).

Many vintage or consignment shops are mom and pop operations, so you will be supporting the local economy. When you buy from more mainstream thrift stores like Goodwill or the Salvation Army, a portion of your proceeds are going to a great cause. If you do buy new, try buying from locally-owned stores. Even though upfront costs may be higher, you are putting your dollar directly into communities. Big box stores like Walmart and Target may have cheaper products, but their existence erodes local economies. Finally, for mail order, if you want a product that is organically produced and sweatshop-free, check out Green America's National Green Pages!

3. Combine trips or stay within walking distance for shopping!

A lot of traveling already goes on for the holidays, so for your shopping try to get it done all in one day or weekend. Combining trips cuts down heavily on carbon emissions, especially if you map it all out beforehand to take the most direct routes. Better yet, if you have the ability to, shop only those stores within walking distances or along your local public transportation routes. Another idea: again, if you think you might be doing a lot of driving, it might be better to shop online.

4. Go for the "experience" gift instead of the "stuff" gift, or the "need" instead of the "want"

As was explored in the "Story of Stuff" we Americans are obsessed with STUFF. Clothes, gadgets, cars...but we're less happy with other countries. A more sustainable gift idea, but still one that is rewarding, is the "experience" gift: a dinner and movie, a play, a massage, a trip to a bed and breakfast, a day skiiing. Most adults won't complain getting gifts like these, and not only does it avoid straining resources, but it creates better memories than, perhaps, the latest iPhone. On another note, when buying stuff, really honing in on something that is needed, like that really warm jacket or boots that serve a practical purpose, as well as looking good, serves twofold in both appeasing the needs and wants of the person you are giving to.

5. Forego the Gift-wrap!

Sorry, but gift-wrap is, quite plainly, is a waste...tens to hundreds of thousands of trees are cut to make wrapping paper. Not only that, most wrapping paper is generally not recyclable. This doesn't mean you can't dress your gift. There are plenty of eco-friendly alternative to wrapping. I am a big fan of using newspaper or magazine pages, often the funnies or other colorful advertisements (a + if the newspaper of magazine itself was published on recycled paper, which many are). This kind of paper is also recyclable. Another idea is to use a gift bag or box for the gift and reuse it every year. I have a gift box I have been using for the past several years, that I reclaim after my friend opens his or her gift. Saves paper, saves time, saves the environment. Easy breezy. A final idea is fabric. There are fabrics sold specifically to use in place of wrapping paper, or simple fabrics bought at a store. This adds an extra gift to the person's gift and is definitely more pleasing in texture and aesthetics and the tearing open of paper and the littered floor afterwards.

6. Get Rid of the Tree, or Source it Carefully!

We have enough deforestation without the cutting down of trees every year to put in our homes for a few weeks before throwing them out. Granted, many of the trees come from tree farms, which are regrown every year, so there is an argument that this is a carbon-neutral renewable resource. But many trees are left curbside after New Year's (a really sad sight if you ask me and one that symbolizes how we use and discard nature so frivolously at times), and left to rot in landfills. Many trees come from farms that use pesticides and herbicides that harm the soil, and your health when you bring them inside. Not to mention, these farms use up land that might better be purposed for real forests or food crops. So, think twice before you get that tree! If you do buy a tree, make sure to get it from an organic tree farm, and compost it afterwards. Or, consider buying a living tree. A fake tree is more sustainable in that it can be used every years for decades, but they also require materials and harsh chemicals to produce. I would say buying a fake tree from a second hand store or a living/potted tree might be the best option.

7. Consider Not Traveling

Sure, everyone loves to see family and old friends for the holidays. But we do sure put in a lot of carbon to get where we're going. Even if you can't see not visiting your far-away family, try to arrange traveling time when you're less likely to be stuck in gridlock (earlier or later than the bulk of when people travel), making sure to use the most direct route when it's the least crowded, or maybe suggesting you all meet in the middle somewhere for Christmas. Sometimes, too, I think there's this pressure to go home or places even when we don't want to, and if that's the case, there's nothing wrong with a Christmas in your own home!

8. Consider a Meatless or Red Meat-Free Christmas

It's true. Meat production is a major contributor to climate change, surpassing transportation as one of the main emitters. It's also a huge contributor to extinction of other animals, and pollution of our land, water and air, not to mention the premiere reason we are deforesting the Amazon. Even if you have no plans of going vegetarian in your life, try seizing this season of thinking about the wider world outside your doorstep and eat lower on the food chain. That doesn't mean you have to be stuck chewing raw celery. There are many great vegetarian and vegan dishes available, from rissoto-stuffed acorn squash, to baked lasagna, that are delicious and hardy.

9. Foster or Adopt a Companion Animal

I always feel the need to slip this in. If you are allergy-free, and have a home that admits pets, consider adding a new family member to your home. If you don't want the long-term commitment, but still have the room and love animals, there are plenty of shelters and rescue groups in any area of the U.S., always looking for foster homes. They will pay for the food and doctor visits, you offer the love and care. It's a win-win.

10. Charity!

Christmas is about giving, but not necessarily just gift giving to your own circle. Let's remember there's a lot of other people out there without homes or reliable food sources, and give to charity. If you feel like you don't need that banging new pair of boots or the latest iPad, ask others to give a gift card in your name.

Happy Holidays!

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