By Molly Showers
The end-of-the year holiday season can be a time of plenty. We often give gifts, eat a lot of good food, and partake in a myriad of family holiday traditions. Unfortunately, many customary practices specific to the holiday season are not particularly sustainable, though there are eco-friendly options that you may want to consider.
When picking out gifts for others, it is common to guess what someone would like, order the gift online, wrap it in shiny wrapping paper, and hope for the best. While this is a practice that can be hazardous to the environment, there are many alternatives that support the local economy and the environment. A good suggestion is to shop local whenever it is possible. Giving a gift card or item from a local shop or restaurant is a great way to cut down on harmful shipping and manufacturing impacts of the environment, while supporting smaller businesses. This is very important, especially as these businesses face harder struggles because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you do not like the local business idea, I recommend shopping for gently used items. As a society, we typically equate secondhand products as inadequate for gifts, therefore we tend to create unnecessary products and waste. Checking out secondhand stores and websites could lead you to finding a cool trinket that is just right for a gift which did not require any new manufacturing. Lastly, changing what you choose to wrap your present in could present new opportunities to be more sustainable. Reusing gift bags, boxes, or even paper seems like the most obvious way to be a more sustainable gift wrapper. There are some more creative ways to present your gifts, however. You could use colorful newspaper, a reusable shopping bag, or even a basket or container that the gift recipient may be able to repurpose. It can be difficult to choose the right present for someone that you care about, but there are viable sustainable options that are available.
There are also ways to tweak your traditions or create new ones to be more environmentally friendly. First, in terms of the typical holiday feasts, you could try giving your family a slightly smaller plate, so the portion sizes are smaller. Therefore, food waste is limited. For any waste that cannot be used as leftovers, create compost for plants in the spring. Holiday decorations can be reused year after year, and you could donate decorations that you no longer want to different shelters or other organizations. I think that now is the time to start some new traditions, like donating money or items to a worthwhile charity. When the pandemic is over and it is safer to be around others, you could make volunteering at a local food or animal shelter a tradition. Ultimately, this benefits your community and gives to others, as opposed to purchasing products that will eventually end up in a landfill.
Most of these tips can be incorporated at any time of the year, but the holiday season has a lot of potential to become sustainably positive.
For more information on how to be eco-friendly during the holidays, check out https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/8829.html.
Molly Showers is a sophomore studying Biology at Stony Brook University. She is from the Adirondacks in Upstate New York. She has always had an interest in what she and others can do to help protect the environment. She is excited to be working with the Ashley Schiff Preserve to spread the message of conservation and respect for the ecosystems around us!