Editor’s Note: This commentary, part of The Beachcomber’s Green Briefs series, was written in partnership with Zero Waste Vashon. Find out more about the organization at zerowastevashon.org.
The holidays are upon us — a time of festivity and fun.
However, I know all too well how easy it is to get carried away and to put on hold our environmentally friendly habits as we decorate, shop, and entertain. Therefore, in solidarity with global leaders who are tackling carbon emissions and a warming planet, this is an encouraging reminder that we can do our part even during the holidays.
Let’s give the planet a holiday boost and ditch unnecessary waste.
One area of waste that we can do without is single-use plastic. When it comes to plastic nearly every piece begins as fossil fuel and greenhouse gases are emitted at every stage of plastic’s use and disposal.
So, let’s reduce the demand for plastic and resist the temptation, with a house full of family and guests, to buy flats of single-use disposable plastic water bottles. Refill and reuse—it’s easy! A bottle of water is 1000 times more carbon intensive than using tap water. Consider travel bottles as gifts. You can never have too many. Also, avoid purchasing gifts that are packaged in plastic, and expose friends and family to new products with earth-friendly packaging.
Another great gift is travel mugs. I love having family and guests visit, but I find way too many disposable coffee cups left behind in the kitchen and the car. We have wonderful coffee shops and I encourage everyone to experience them, but I can do without the plastic-lined takeaway cups and lids. So, I encourage folks to take their gifted travel mugs as they head out for their favorite hot beverage.
When it comes to wrapping travel mugs and bottles, think to repurpose and reusable. A pretty tea towel or vintage scarf makes a beautiful wrapping and a bonus gift. If you are short on fabric, make sure you avoid shiny and glittery wrapping paper which is difficult to recycle. However, newspaper or packing paper, when tied with twine or strips of colorful fabric, can be eco-chic particularly if you tuck a sprig of holly or rosemary into the bow. I can hear Martha Stewart applaud with approval.
When entertaining, using real plates, glasses, cutlery, and napkins not only makes your meal more elegant but also saves a lot of non-recyclable waste. If you are short on dinnerware for a crowd, Vashon’s No Trash Bash community library (contact abby.l.faust@gmail) allows borrowing everything from plates to bowls to silverware, tablecloths, and glasses. When shopping for a holiday meal, remember to bring your reusable produce and grocery bags.
As to holiday decorations, nature is hard to beat. We live where there is an abundance of greenery to decorate our mantels with holly and boughs — and to fill our houses with the fragrance of evergreen. Outside, those vinyl, inflatable snowmen and Santas are not only not made to last, but sadly, they are also made from harmful synthetics. All too soon they end up in the landfill. As for holiday lights, make sure you replace burned-out bulbs, rather than tossing out the whole string.
What better way to avoid waste than to give homemade gifts, which generally have the lightest impact on our environment? A batch of cookies, homemade bread or candied nuts is always welcome. Tuck them into a reusable silicone food storage bag and double the gift. Who doesn’t love homemade jam or chutney and anything hand knitted is personal and long-lasting? If you are not a knitter, check out repurposing old sweaters into mittens.
For the children on your list, try Open Space for Arts & Community’s second-annual Toy Swap on Dec. 10. Visit openspacevashon.com for more information.
If you don’t have time to make gifts, you can encourage a switch to more sustainable products by purchasing gift subscriptions to eco-friendly household products, such as bamboo toilet paper or waste-free toothpaste bits. Admittedly, not glamorous, but hard to imagine they wouldn’t be used.
You hit the bullseye of zero waste by giving experiences instead of stuff. Tickets to a performance or the museum are a treat.
So are yoga, dance, or art classes. Also, gift certificates for a massage or an outing with a picnic. Make memories, not mountains of trash.
So, let’s think before we buy this holiday season. Let’s think about the impact on the environment of our purchases and our actions. Let’s consider our carbon footprint.
Instead of 25% more trash — which is what Americans typically produce during the holidays — let’s turn this around. Reduce the trash and up the cheer!
— Green Brief commentaries are coordinated by the Whole Vashon Project. Find out more at wholevashonproject.org.