The holiday season can be hard on the planet: Carbon-spewing travel spikes, decorative lighting that gobbles energy and, per one study, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, about 25% more trash is thrown away.
But, there are lots of environmentally friendly ways to celebrate without dousing your seasonal cheer. From the Sustainable Fairfield Task Force (SFTF), here are some “green tips” for holiday decorating, entertaining, gifting and traveling – plus some thoughts on carrying your concern for the environment into the New Year. You can find details on these and more ideas at Small Footprint Family, the Rainforest Alliance, Harvard University Sustainability, Green Mountain Energy, and The New York Times.
When you’re decorating . . .
Stick with LED lighting. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LED lights have a much longer lifespan and consume 70% less energy than conventional incandescent light strands. The DOE says that if everyone replaced their conventional holiday light strings with LEDs, at least two billion kilowatt-hours of electricity could be saved in a month – enough to power 200,000 homes for a year.
Buy a real tree. If your holiday traditions include decorating a tree, get a real one. Artificial trees are reusable, but because of production issues, one study says you’d have to reuse a fake tree for 20 years before it could be considered greener than a real tree. Holiday trees are a renewable crop and Fairfield County has lots of cut-your-own tree farms. After the holidays, bring your tree to the WeCare Denali facility, One Richard White Way, off Reef Road in Fairfield, for recycling into mulch.
When you’re entertaining (and eating) . . .
Skip the paper and plastic. Avoid serving food and drinks with disposable plates, cups and utensils. If you don’t have enough reusable items, ask everyone to bring some. And, for after-party clean-up, use cloth towels instead of disposable paper towels.
Pass the vegetables. Reducing your meat consumption could help reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by about one-third, according to The Guardian. You don’t have to forego your holiday roast, but during the holidays you could simply try serving a greater number of vegetable or grain-based dishes, while giving meat a smaller role.
When you’re gifting . . .
Give some experiences, not just stuff. Sustainability is partially about having and using fewer things. According to one study, about 35% of Americans have an unused holiday present collecting dust in their closets. By giving “experiential” gifts, you can minimize wrapping and shopping, yet still give a loved one quality time experiencing something fun, new or interesting. Fairfield and surrounding towns are loaded with arts, cultural and entertainment experiences; you can find lots of ideas here.
Shop local. It’ll save you “shopping miles” while also supporting our local economy. Fairfield’s shopping districts boast a plethora of interesting stores offering clothing, household items, books, art and more. You can visit Exper!ence Fairfield for some ideas.
Encourage concern for the planet early. Give kids (and their families) gifts that can inspire curiosity about the natural world, like a membership with Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo or the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport, or the opportunity to “adopt” an animal via The World Wildlife Fund, Whale and Dolphin Conservation-USA or the Sierra Club.
Help support small, local farmers. You can gift a “share” in the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which will give your giftee a weekly delivery of high-quality produce from a local farm during the growing season. A CSA share is the most efficient way to support smaller farms as well as the most cost-effective way to buy locally grown food. You can find more information here.
Get creative with wrapping. Americans spent $12.7 billion on gift wrapping in 2017, but a lot of it ended up in landfills because most of it can’t be recycled. Instead, try wrapping presents with old maps or the newspaper comics section. Or, use a scarf, dish towel, bandana, or some other useful cloth item that is itself a gift. Reusable holiday gift bags also help reduce wrapping. If every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. P.S. You can cut your paper use even further by emailing – instead of paper mailing – your holiday cards. You can find some ideas here.
When you’re traveling . . .
Offset your carbon impact. Numerous environmental organizations offer the opportunity to fund sustainability projects that will effectively offset the fossil fuel pollution generated by your trip, no matter how you travel. You can find some ideas at Terrapass, CarbonFund, and www.Carbonify.com.
Cut the power while you’re away. Don’t let your home waste valuable resources when you’re not there. As much as possible, turn OFF lights, computer equipment, and electronics. Turn power strips to OFF and unplug devices from their outlets. And, make sure all windows are shut and window treatments are closed.
When you’re ringing in the New Year . . .
Make some “green resolutions” for 2020 and beyond. Making a more sustainable world is a job for all seasons and everyone can help make a difference. If you’d like to do even more in 2020, here are some ideas from the SFTF and the State of Connecticut:
• Sharpen your knowledge about what can– and what can’t – be recycled.
• Learn more about the powerful appeal of electric cars.
• Think about growing food at home.
• Consider turning your household food waste into useful compost.
• Get a home energy audit to help lower your energy bills – and help the world conserve energy.
The SFTF provides support for Town practices and projects that can help Fairfield manage its growth to safeguard the health of its environment, ensure the reliability and economical use of its natural resources, and preserve the quality of life of its residents – today and for the future. For more information, please visit www.fairfieldct.org/sftf or contact Jim Marren/Sustainable Fairfield Task Force at (203) 257-1701.