Curious Nature: Christmas and the spirit of sustainability (column)

Melissa Bonaccorso
Curious Nature
In the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas, Americans produce 1 million extra tons of waste every week -- 25 percent more than we normally produce.
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We all know that the holiday season is the time for giving. But the wastefulness and high levels of consumption that occur during this time may be contradicting this holiday cheer by taking away from that which gives us the most to be grateful for: our planet, Earth.

In the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas, Americans produce 1 million extra tons of waste every week — 25 percent more than is normally produced. We throw away 227,000 miles of wrapping paper and 125,000 tons of plastic packaging. As a nation, we eat 80 percent more food during the holiday season than we do during the rest of the year, which is enough to produce the same carbon footprint as a car driving around the whole world 6,000 times.

In addition, American Christmas lights alone suck up more electricity than many developing countries use in an entire year. The environmental impacts of Christmastime are endless. But I don’t mean to be a Scrooge. Of course, we can still enjoy giving and receiving gifts, decorating and eating, but here are some suggestions to keep the spirits high and the stress (on ourselves and on the planet) low during the holidays:

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1. Be intentional with your gift shopping and only buy gifts that you know will be used and are built to last.

A thoughtful gift will be valued much more than cheesy home decor bought out of a feeling of obligation. I love zero-waste stores and websites because they sell quality items that almost anyone can use and encourage a more sustainable lifestyle. If you’re really stuck, remember that everyone loves gift cards. The gift of experiences such as ski passes, concert tickets, spa trips, etc. won’t go to waste. And rather than buying gifts for those who don’t truly need (and often don’t even want) them, try donating to families in need, or giving a donation to an organization in the name of a loved one. Not only will you feel the true spirit of Christmas, but you’ll also likely be saving some space in the landfill.

2. Plug your decorative lights up to a timer so they go on only when it’s dark out and turn off when you go to sleep. If you must purchase new lights, then opt for more efficient LED lights.

Try eating less meat

3. Consider eating less meat this holiday season, or using the upcoming New Year as an opportunity to set a goal to consume less meat. Meat production uses an enormous amount of land and water, and livestock produces large quantities of methane — an extremely concentrated greenhouse gas — as waste. Reducing meat consumption is one of the best ways to minimize your carbon footprint.

4. Get creative with your wrapping. Old calendars make beautiful and unique wrapping paper, as does newspaper. Saving used wrapping paper for next year can also spare a lot of waste production.

As we gather in gratitude this holiday season, I urge you to recognize that everything we have — from our homes to the food on our plates to our Christmas trees — is ultimately derived from the Earth. May we consider that while we give to each other during this time, we need not neglect our responsibility to give back to the planet as well.

Melissa Bonaccorso worked as a naturalist for Walking Mountains in the summer of 2018. Her favorite holiday activities include bugging her family about their unsustainable habits and watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” while decorating the tree with her sisters.

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