Monday, November 12, 2012

Sustainable Holidays

There's just one week until my Thanksgiving week long break and I can't tell you how relieved I am to realize it's just around the corner. In some ways this break is bittersweet because it is the last Thanksgiving I will see in my Undergraduate as this is my final semester at university (for now). On top of that Christmas and other winter holidays are waiting to burst forth with sparkling twinkle lights, soft frosted sugar cookies, striped peppermint canes, peace, love and good will toward man.


Wintertime brings forth thoughts of joy within my spirit, but with these holiday parties, gifts and excessive food we also see a lot of waste, which is not very Earth-friendly. I would never suggest that anyone should cut out the important traditions, or stop giving gifts or never throw a party. What is life, let alone Christmas without these things? However, winter sends our consumerism into overdrive and I am here to give some tips on how to reduce (not remove) some of these excessive purchases.

Invitations and Cards

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When we read we begin with ABC when we throw a party we begin with invitations. On this topic, I'm torn. It's always quite lovely to receive a beautiful invitation to a wedding, holiday party, or shower. On the other hand, the paper industry is the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the U.S.

 http://sfgirlbybay.blogspot.com/2007_11_01_archive.html
  • Evites (like those from Punchbowl.com) are virtual invitations, which may provide the answer. 
  • Another idea is to use partly or 100% postconsumer recycled paper.
  • Non-wood pulp paper:
    • Cotton paper from Crane's, which uses leftover waste from the textile industry.
    • Botanical Paperworks is a company which uses biodegradable materials to make cards with seeds in them. You plant the card and can enjoy a garden of beautiful wildflowers next spring.
    • Kenaf and hemp papers are a good choice, because kenaf and hemp are sustainable and easy to grow without pesticides.
    • Resource for recycled tree-free paper: Vickerey.
  • Avoid cards which are embedded with metallic sparklies or are coated in plastic. They are tough, if not impossible to recycle.

Gift Wrap

Gift wrap is often not recyclable due to the large amount of ink used in printing, nor is gift wrap generally made from recycled materials. So considering the gift wrap is rarely appreciated before it is torn off the gift and wadded into a ball to be used later in gift wrap basketball (is that just my family?) it's a bad idea to use conventional wrapping paper. But good news everyone, there are alternatives:
  • You can find gift wrap and bags made from recycled paper and tree-free materials on Lucky Vitamin.
  • Wrap gifts unconventionally: Gifting your foodie friend kitchen utensils and a gift card to their favorite restaurant? wrap it in a pretty kitchen dish cloth. Wrap a gift inside a usable tote or purse; two gifts in one!
  • Make a cute origami gift box (see my tutorial here) or gift bag (see tutorial on How About Orange) from magazines or newspaper. Recycling is the best! Plus, magazines have beautiful glossy pages.
  • Save still pretty bows and ribbons from year to year (key words, still pretty; don't be saving ratty old bits of useless material.)
Origami gift box from magazine pages.

Gifts

When it comes to gifts, people generally default to things. Change your mindset. Unless you know exactly what someone wants or needs, a thing might not be the answer to your gift giving questions. What to give instead? Gift certificates are a great place to start, not generic, impersonal ones but ones that really show you know who they are and what they like. Have a friend who loves yoga? Get them a a punch pass to a local yoga studio. Remember that foodie friend I mentioned earlier? Restaurant gift card! More ideas:
  • A donation to a charity in their name.
  • Tickets to their favorite concert, sports team, the ballet, the opera, the movies... etc.
  • Gift card to a salon or spa.
  • Mom and dad would love a framed picture of you and your siblings.
  • For your gal pals, a night out and an overnight stay in a luxury hotel.
  • For a sporty friend, sessions with a personal trainer.
  • For that recently married couple, a bottle of the wine served at their wedding or honeymoon.
See it's not so hard. Homemade gifts are also very appreciated. They show you put time and energy into their gift. Here are a few links to homemade gifts (pinterest is the best pinterest)
That should keep you busy for a while.

http://www.realsimple.com/holidays-entertaining/gifts/wrapping/creative-gift-wrapping-ideas-00000000014208/page11.html

Refreshments

No one can deny that food and booze can make or break a party. Food and booze also tend to be served in excess at parties, with good reason. No host or hostess wants to be caught without food to serve the seven who RSVPed "no" but decided to come anyway or the plus one your nephew forgot to mention he was bringing (*hint hint* this is also a commentary on party etiquette).

Thanksgiving: the holiday we give thanks for what we have (to waste)  
http://people.desktopnexus.com/wallpaper/823264/

More than 25 percent of food produced for humans is thrown out (that comes out to about 50 million tons of food every year). This food ends up in landfills, which are major sources of human-produced methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty-three times more prolific than CO2. The moral of the story is to:
  • only serve the amount of food you'll need,
  • store the leftovers for a meal tomorrow,
  • use local and organic ingredients,
  • recycle and compost waste, and
  • use cloth napkins and reusable dishes and utensils.
As for alcohol serve organic alcohol as often as possible. Why does it matter? Alcohol come from plants and it takes a lot of plants to make that much alcohol. This means a heck of a lot of pesticides; not good for you, or the planet. Organic alcohols:

Decorations

In my family decorating the house for Christmas is a Christmas tradition I love (in fact one year a cried... I don't actually remember why but it had something to do with Christmas decorating and not doing it as a family... or something). I love changing the decor in my apartment (especially the door wreath) seasonally, but Christmas is when I really go all out with the decorations (this is probably true for most people).

Unfortunately some of the decorations on the market are not very Earth-friendly, namely twinkle lights. A string of 300 hundred of these lights can use 30 kilowatt-hours of energy (emitting 45 pounds of CO2) over the holiday season. And with those big fat lights, your looking at 450 kilowatt-hours (700 pounds of CO2). The solution? LED lights! Not only do they only use 3 kilowatt-hours during the holiday season, they don't get hot so your fire risk goes WAY down.

Old town Fort Collins in winter. I wonder if they use LED lights...
http://www.city-data.com/picfilesv/picv8550.php

Use decorations you can reuse from year to year (i.e. a paper garland is a no-no, also not chic. That goes for confetti too, which is ridiculously hard if not impossible to clean up). Look for decorations at antique stores, thrift shops and garage sales instead of buying them new.

Other than that, the only thing I can suggest is forgetting the Christmas tree all together. But I would never suggest that because I LOVE Christmas trees. Seriously.

This room is unquestionably gorgeous!
http://freshome.com/2009/12/13/10-beautiful-christmas-tree-decorating-ideas/

However, consider an artificial Christmas tree. No luxurious spruce smell, but also no messy needles. Or if you could never go without a real Christmas tree, buy one with roots attached that you can replant when Christmas is over.

Clean-Up

Don't give up on being green just because you are over-whelmed with a mess after a party. Hopefully you've already reduced a lot (a major point of this post in case you missed that) and you are left with a relatively easy cleanup. Use green products like Seventh Generation and Simple Green (more on green cleaning products later). Replace your plastic trash bags with recycled trash bags or use biodegradable bags, such as BioBag. Avoid disposable dishes and utensils! Here's a few tips if you need more dishes to cover your guests:
  • Check out vintage shops for unique (and cheap) dishes that send you good vibes, man.
  • If you buy new, get organic or renewable fabrics, recycled glass, sustainable woods, and ceramics colored with nontoxic dyes.

The end... Good luck to you with your holiday season. Leave a comment to tell me how you plan to utilize these tips or share your own.