Imagine the holiday season as a field of freshly fallen, sparkling snow. Then imagine what it’s like after a thousand people have tromped all over it and left their garbage behind. Every footprint, every piece of waste contributes to one big mess. Everything we do leaves an impression on the earth, so here’s an invitation to step lightly as you plan your holiday celebrations.
It’s important to hold a firm philosophical framework in your heart and mind, like a built-in compass keeping you on a sustainable path, and helping you recognize and respond—or, more importantly, not respond—to the bombardment of marketing hype about how the holidays should look, sound, and feel. If you don’t buy in, you’ll emerge richer in heart and in wallet—and do your part to create less waste.
Talk to family and friends about coming together to reduce waste. Challenge each other, get creative, share ideas—and share an abundance of joy, not stuff.
Let’s start with shopping:
Every excursion leaves a footprint—in the coming and going, and the choices you make.
- Shop on your lunch break or after work when you are already near stores.
- Take transit or carpool.
- Remember your shopping bags; take extra.
- Go in the morning when your energy is high, and the crowds low.
- Make lists and budgets and stick to them.
- Avoid items with a temporary use, excess packaging and, wherever possible, are made of plastic.
- Choose experiences over stuff.
- Not every gift needs to be brand new.
- Check out thrift stores.
- Re-gift something you know someone else will love.
- Make or upcycle gifts.
- Go for made-to-last quality over quantity.
- Spread the eco love with a natural gift for home or garden, or items to help others be less wasteful.
Wrap it Up
- Choose glue or tie with wool, ribbon, or string, over plastic scotch tape.
- Reuse wrapping paper, bags, and bows.
- Wrap a gift in a gift—in socks or glass jars, or wrapped in a shirt or towel.
- Avoid non-recyclable glitter, tinsel, foil, and cellophane.
- Choose cloth ribbon over synthetic.
- Make a meal plan and buy only what you need.
- Be realistic about portions; don’t buy a 25 lb turkey for four people.
- Choose products in glass vs plastic jars.
- Pick package-free:
- Buy in bulk.
- Take your own produce and shopping bags.
- Make a zero-waste plan to use leftovers:
- Share or immediately freeze in lunch- or meal-sized portions.
- Give doggy bags to guests.
- Share meals with shut-in neighbours.
- Put leftovers in jars and bowls with a plate on top versus plastic food wrap and foil.
- Avoid single-use plastic cutlery, cups, napkins, straws, stir sticks, and dishes.
Online vs In-Store Shopping
Which carries the lightest footprint? Tricky question. The answer depends partly on where goods are made. For example, an item shipped from another country travels far by ship or plane. Buying locally made is always the better choice.
- Worldwide, online shopping constitutes one out of seven purchases, nearly 15% of all shopping.
- The online retail industry is worth over $3.5 trillion, rising by 20% every year.
- That said, there are advantages and disadvantages to both:
Online over In-store:
- Online companies with no retail storefronts to power and maintain already have a lower footprint.
- Delivery services are efficient; it’s like putting everyone’s packages on one bus, rather than in individual cars—unless they are rush deliveries.
In-store over Online:
- When customers can see, touch, and try on merchandise, fewer returns are made.
- Delivered goods come in their original packaging and delivery packaging.
- About 20% of online purchases are returned, doubling the delivery carbon footprint.
- Up to 60% of all first-time deliveries are unsuccessful and can take up to three attempts. If the buyer has to drive to pick up the package, all the carbon emissions savings are lost.
Make Smarter Choices
- Order online early and choose a longer delivery time. Overnight or rush deliveries result in individual deliveries in emptier trucks.
- Arrange a delivery time when you know you’ll be home or make arrangements with a neighbour.
- Buy locally made.
- Individuals driving to stores increases emissions; transit, walking, or cycling are better choices.
- Buy less. The item not purchased—online or in-store—has the lowest footprint of all.
Article was published in The Good Life magazine.