It’s that time of year again! The holidays are a wonderful time to enjoy company and show appreciation of family and friends. But amidst this joyous time of celebration, the holidays are also one of the most wasteful times of the year. Gifts consume large amounts of material, whether it’s packaging or wrapping, and most especially shipping. Approximately 1.5 billion cards are sent during the holiday season in the United States, requiring 300,000 trees to be harvested. Holiday lights use more than 2.2 million mega watt hours of electricity, which could run more than 173,000 homes for a year. This can all add up to a large impact on the planet. In the past 50 years, people have consumed more resources than in all previous history.
Luckily, there are many ways to save resources and still be festive. Here are some ideas:
- Purchase hardy decorations that will look great year after year. This habit will also save money in the long run.
- Reuse gift bags, and even wrapping paper. If wrapping paper is not salvageable for reuse, remember that it is recyclable in Monroe County (and most others).
- Reuse newspaper as wrapping paper.
- Ribbons and bows are especially sturdy for reuse.
- Buy locally – this will reduce shipping impacts and support local businesses.
- Create a homemade card out of recyclable materials, or send one via email.
- Get crafty and make your own gifts. Etsy.com has great ideas for homemade presents.
- When choosing a gift card, consider an e-gift certificate. It works the same but does not require plastic.
- Buy products from socially responsible businesses. For example, choose fair trade registered coffee as a sustainable treat.
- While feasting, avoid using disposable dishes and cutlery. Send your guests home with leftovers and store them in reusable containers.
What do you give to that person who already has everything? In addition to the old favorite practice of donating to a charity in one’s honor, there are other ways you can give without giving “stuff”. At oceana.org you can adopt a sea creature in a friend’s name. The money goes to support ocean conservation efforts and costs. You can even purchase a tree at Treepeople.com to help provide sustainable solutions to urban ecosystems. Consider local activities, like taking your spouse on an organic wine tour or handpicking produce with a friend at a nearby farm. Changing the Present has information about all kinds of charities. By being conscious, you can spoil your friends and the planet.
But, before you go on that much-needed vacation, remember to keep your office and dorm room low impact in your absence.
- Eliminate the phantom load by unplugging chargers, printers, copiers, coffee makers, toasters, computer paraphernalia, microwaves, electric kettles, lamps, fax machine, and clocks. Even easier – if your electronics are plugged into a surge protector, flip the switch off.
- Turn off the lights, or set up a light timer for security.
- Close and seal windows as tightly as possible to keep heat in. Closing blinds and curtains can add additional insulation and prevent the warm air from literally going out the window.
- Turn down the thermostat, or call the Customer Service Center (273-4567) to see if Facilities can do it for you at the University. No need to heat an empty room.
When leaving for vacation, treat your office like you would your home. The University and planet will thank you.
By Alanna Scheinerman, Class of 2013