I have a problem with the consumerism and environmental damage that come with celebrating mid-winter holidays and Thanksgiving. From overproduction and the waste associated with consumerism, to the ecological impacts of the CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) that are producing the staple of your holiday meal, this time of year can get messy.
I’ve had enough of this, so I’ve decided to celebrate the holidays more sustainably. On a day that’s meant for giving thanks, we can thank our planet for its continued support through genuine environmental action — such as making sustainable swaps during our holiday celebrations.
For example, don’t scrap your holiday feast. But do make sure you choose local for at least one of your ingredients, preferably as many as possible. While food miles are a superficial aspect of the environmental impact of food, supporting your local economy is certainly in the holiday spirit.
You might also feel inclined to donate leftovers to local shelters or food recovery programs. Most will take nonperishables, but call ahead and ask if they will accept cooked food. If not, consider sharing with your friends or expanding the size of your gathering to ensure nothing goes to waste.
Gift-giving is another place for a sustainable swap. That wrapping paper that dresses up your gifts for a week (at best) before it winds up in a landfill? You can’t be too surprised that it’s unsustainable. And with a nice coating of plastic inks, your brightly-colored, shiny wrapping paper will not biodegrade like a plain brown paper wrapping will. Maybe it’s not as inherently pretty, but I dress my gifts up with some twine, dried orange slices and a sprig of rosemary. No one has complained about the aesthetic.
On the subject of gifts, are we still assigning more value to objects than experiences and companionship? It goes without saying that consumerism is an issue (most of what we buy ends up in landfills or the ocean), and it gets so much worse around the holidays when people are pressured to spend money on meaningless objects to display their affections. And some of us, including a lot of college students, aren’t too fond of the expectation that we spend a lot of money during the holidays.
A more sustainable option is spending time with one another. Those coupons you made for your parents in elementary school can make a comeback; just promise your friends and family home-cooked meals or a movie night. Another option is handmade gifts: last year I gifted candied citrus peels (a cocktail garnish) to my relatives, they were a hit.
And a note on that conifer you place your gifts under: real trees are more sustainable than plastic ones. Despite being grown industrially and chopped down year after year, real trees still engage in carbon sequestration. If they’re disposed of properly, the carbon and nutrients from that tree’s lifetime can be returned to the soil in a form usable for life. A great option for your post-holiday tree dump is a program run by Let’s Goat Buffalo, which was mentioned in Buffalo Magazine earlier this month. The project takes discarded trees and feeds them to rescue goats — the ones who visited UB earlier this semester — who digest the trees and return their nutrients to the soil. If you prefer, a potted tree can be used in place of a cut one.
For those who don’t celebrate any winter holidays and are in it simply for the vibes, choose your scented candles wisely. Candles made with petroleum-based paraffin wax emit greenhouse gasses and other chemicals, formaldehyde among them, into the air in your home. Not only is this not good for you or your furry friends, but the soot is just another air pollutant. Their production also supports the fossil-fuel industry, so opt for soy-based candles or a simmer pot this season.
To be clear, no one is asking you to give up your traditions in the name of saving the planet. But the pattern of being mindful of your impact on the planet has to start somewhere — and what better way to embrace the kindness endemic to the holiday season. When you pray or share gratitude this holiday season, be sure to thank our planet.
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