Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Hanukkah. Christmas. New Year’s Eve. The holiday madness begins in November and lasts through the New Year. I'm not a holiday grinch, but I cringe at the waste that comes from the holiday season every year. From Thanksgiving to New Years Day, household waste in the U.S. increases by more than 25%. The waste comes in the form of food, shopping bags, holiday cards, packaging, wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, and more. This adds up to an additional one million tons a week to our landfills during this time (United States Environmental Protection Agency).
Think about the bags of trash you end up with at the end of the night after opening gifts. Trash bags are piled high with ribbon, paper, and packaging—much of it which is not recyclable. This trash sits in landfill for hundreds of years before it decomposes. Give a gift to the environment this holiday season and reduce waste. Here are some ideas.
- Reduce the number of holiday cards you send. Did you know that the 2.65 billion holiday cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high? If we each send one card less, we'd save 50,000 cubic yards of paper (The Use Less Stuff Report). How about sending electronic cards or posting a holiday video to your friends on YouTube? For paper or photo cards, think about just sending to those friends and family who are out-of-town that you do not see as often. This will save you both time and money. I stopped sending holiday cards a few years ago and I don't miss that extra “to-do" around the holidays.
- Go potted or rent. Each year 50 million Christmas trees are purchased in the U.S., and of those, about 30 million go to landfill (The Use Less Stuff Report). Artificial trees can be reused, but are not ideal for the environment either. They are made of PVC (a harmful plastic), are typically shipped from outside the U.S. (consuming resources to get to their final destination), and are not recyclable or biodegradable. Instead, go for a potted tree that can be replanted after the holiday season. If you don't want to plant it in your yard, you can find another spot for it. The Original Christmas Tree Company has some ideas. There are also companies that rent trees, such as Rent a Living Christmas Tree.
- Go homemade. Give homemade gifts instead of packaged ones. The sentiment will last a lifetime. At my dad's house, we now give homemade gifts instead of bought ones. We have done this for the past four years. We draw names and make a gift for one person. I cherish the photo calendar my dad made me, the painted box with uplifting sayings my sister made me, the wood-carved wine holder my sister's boyfriend made me, and the decorated frames my stepmom gave me. I don't remember all of the other gifts I have gotten from them over the years, but I will always remember what they made for me.
- Give less. If you are not ready to give up gift giving entirely, how about drawing names and just buying for one person? This means less time in the mall and lower January credit card bills. For less packaging waste, good gift ideas are movie tickets, spa certificates, gift cards, or vouchers for an activity with you. Another great idea is to make a donation to an organization that has meaning for the person you are gifting. For me, it's not just about the money—it's about the time and pressure of gift giving. There is so much frenzy during the holiday season that is only exacerbated by the obligation of gift giving. Let's give ourselves a chance to enjoy the holiday season without putting so many demands on our time (and pocketbook).
- Spend time, not money. Create traditions that your family looks forward to over the holidays, reducing the importance of material items and increasing the importance of family time. Some of my favorite traditions are building ginger bread houses, cooking together, building puzzles, playing games, and driving through the neighborhood listening to holiday music, and seeing the holiday lights.
- Be creative with gift wrap. Try using newspapers, magazines, old calendars, or scarves to wrap presents. Choose wrapping paper with recycled content. Don't throw out the scraps. Use them and wrap a gift with several scrap pieces. Go light (or not at all) on the tissue paper. Instead of throwing out (or recycling) all of the tissue paper, boxes, and gift wrap, save it for next year. My sister and her boyfriend outdid themselves last year when they wrapped my gifts in fresh banana leaves that could be returned to nature after I opened my gifts.
- Forgo the ribbons and bows. If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet (The Use Less Stuff Report). It’s the gift inside that matters, not the packaging.
- Save energy. I enjoy the holiday lights as much as the next person but they do use a lot of energy. If you are in the market for new lights, buy LED ones which save energy.
- Pay it forward. My friends, Tracy and Vinny, have a holiday party every year where the price of admission is a new, unwrapped toy for the Toys for Tots program which gives gifts to children in need. What a great way to get in the true spirit of reaching out to and helping others.
Okay, so maybe I am a bit of a holiday grinch—limited holiday cards, rented Christmas trees, and homemade gifts? I've made most of these changes over the years, and I have to say—the holidays are much less stressful (and more meaningful) for me than they used to be. I have time to enjoy the season and my family. I'm not running around like a crazy person making sure I have gifts for everyone, holiday cards filled out, and gifts wrapped. It's liberating.
On the other hand, I do enjoy getting into the holiday spirit with listening to the holiday music, seeing the lights, and receiving the photo cards and witty letters from my friends. Four Quadrant Living not about depriving ourselves of the things that bring us pleasure. Pleasure is a key component of our health. So, if there are certain items listed above that bring you joy during the holiday season, by all means, do them. Just do them mindfully, recognizing the impact on the health of the environment, those around you, and even yourself.
You don't have to make all of the changes, but is there one change for this holiday season that you can make as a gift to yourself, as well as to the environment?
Dina Colman is an integral health coach and writer. She has her MBA from Kellogg at Northwestern University and her Master’s degree in Holistic Health Education from John F. Kennedy University. She has an office in Danville where she works with clients to live an integral life of health and wellness. She founded Four Quadrant Living, providing information and motivation for healthy living through nourishment of the four quadrants of our lives—Mind, Body, Relationships, and Environment. This blog is from the Environment quadrant. Contact Dina at firstname.lastname@example.org