Thanksgiving and the winter holidays are known for their abundance of delicious foods, gifts, and elaborate decorations. But that doesn’t mean your holidays can’t be environmental friendly! Here are a few quick tips to green your holidays.
Decorate using eco friendly decorations:
Try decorating in a more natural manner! Pine cones, leaves, and other dried plants make lovely but festive decorations. Wreathes made out of tree branches (from fir, cedar, and other conifers) or lavender wands are beautiful and they smell great too! All of them are also biodegradable or compostable! Choose candles made with natural waxes and essential oils instead of candles made with synthetic waxes and scents, to gently scent your home and add a warm, festive touch.
Many stores sell scented pine cones, which you can easily make at home. Just add a few drops of your favorite holiday essential oil to a pine cone. Citrus (such as orange and tangerine), mint (peppermint or spearmint), spice (cinnamon, vanilla, cassia, or clove), and conifer essential oils (like fir, spruce, cedar, pine, or juniper) smell delicious!
Use eco-friendly dishes and utensils, or clean them in a green manner!
Many people use their regular dishes and utensils, or their good china during the holidays (which is a simple green alternative instead of using disposable plates and utensils). Be sure to clean them using a natural based brand of dishwashing detergent, which usually contains non-toxic ingredients (detergents are synthetic ingredients but some are naturally derived, and often natural brand dish washing detergents only contain detergents and other non-toxic cleaners, natural scents, and preservatives, and that’s it. Most of them are not made with potentially toxic or environmental degrading ingredients). Sometimes I also like using soap nuts to clean my dishes (I make a liquid soap nut cleanser, see link below for recipe). If using a dishwashing machine, only wash a full load at a time.
If you choose to use disposable plates and utensils try to buy biodegradable and compostable ones. Many green brands of disposable cutlery are made from plant ingredients like potato starch or corn. Eco-friendly plates and bowls are not bleached with chlorine bleach (which are a source of dioxins) and they are made from plants like sugar cane, corn, recycled wood pulp, or other natural fibers. They have come way down in price over the years, and they are now very affordable.
Make eco friendly activities part of your holidays!
If the weather is not too cold, I like spending time outdoors. Take your family or invite your friends to the local park and take a hike or nature walk, or pack up those tasty holiday leftovers and have a picnic! Or plant a tree: autumn (October through early December) is an excellent time to plant trees.
Spend time with your family and friends and hold an environmental activity day or party. Take the time to teach your loved ones about green alternatives, such as green gift giving or crafting your own products, or discuss environmental issues like endangered species or global warming.
Consider greener transportation:
Public ground transportation (like buses and trains) is an excellent way to travel green! If you can’t take public transportation, then for better gas mileage check the air pressure in your car’s tires. Also consider purchasing a more fuel efficient vehicle in the future. For air travel, try to get a non-stop flight (which produces less emissions or pollution).
Eat locally grown or organic foods, and more vegetarian foods:
They are not only better for the environment, but they are delicious and healthy! Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and nutrients. Many studies seem to indicate organic foods have higher concentrations of vitamins than conventionally grown foods. Locally grown foods support local vendors and are less polluting (since they don’t have to be transported across vast distances). Many organic and vegetarian foods are lower in fat, salt, and calories than their animal based or conventional counterparts.
Consumption of meat and animal products can have a huge impact on the environment. You don’t need to go full vegetarian during the holidays (unless you want to!) to be more eco-friendly, but consider making more vegetarian or vegan dishes. For example, instead of eating several meat dishes, maybe make just one main meat dish, and make the rest of the dishes vegetarian. Delicious vegetarian holiday foods including vegetarian roasts, vegetarian meat substitutes, quinoa, potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, pies, buttered and spiced squash, cakes, berry or chocolate trifle, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green and other colorful veggies (broccoli, kale, carrots, peppers, etc), Portobello and other mushroom dishes (like stuffed mushrooms), whole grain bread, sweet breads (like pumpkin, cranberry, zucchini, or chocolate), vegetable stews and soups, veggies with dips, cheese and fruit platters, chocolates, cinnamon buns, baked brie, stuffed cheese and fruits (such as dates or grape leaves), spiced or candied nuts, and quiche.
Many dishes traditionally made with meat can be made vegetarian or vegan. Replace chicken broth with vegetable stock. Make vegetarian mushroom gravy instead of meat based gravy. Use organic butter, shortening, or vegan butter substitutes in pie crusts instead of lard. Or make a vegetarian roast with all the trimmings. Use vegetarian meat substitutes like vegan ‘sausages’, ‘ham’, ‘chicken’, ‘turkey’, ‘ground beef’, seitan, tofu, and tempeh. If you don’t like vegetarian meat alternatives then make a different ‘untraditional’ dish. I love making dishes that aren’t the usual holiday fare like eggplant parmesan, mushroom fries, kale chips, a whole grain pasta dish, a delicious curry or stir fry, coconut chocolate or carob pudding, or grilled fruits and veggies (kabobs).
Use reusable bags when shopping:
Plastic bags can take hundreds of years to break down in landfills and many animals can choke on them (if someone litters). So for the holidays (and every time you shop), be sure to use reusable bags! Many super markets will give you a small refund if you use your own bag. Reusable totes are inexpensive, durable, and an easy way to be more eco-conscious. If you forget your reusable bag, many stores offer a paper bag option, which are recyclable, reusable, and also biodegrade quickly. Paper bags also make great holiday gift wrap: wrap your gift using a paper bag and then decorate it! Or if you are only purchasing just one or a few small items then you may want to choose to not get a bag. If you have to get a plastic bag then reuse it for future purchases or use it as a trash bag.
A super simple way to have a green holiday: donate to those less fortunate, or to environmental organizations. Even small donations like a couple dollars can add up and make a huge impact. Do some fall and winter cleaning and donate your used but good condition clothes and other items to local shelters and charities. Or buy a couple cans of food on sale or inexpensive toys. In addition to toys, many homeless and women shelters need things like (new) toiletries (like soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrushes, etc) or winter coats and blankets.
Overconsumption is one of the biggest environmental problems. In my personal opinion, the single most important thing someone can do to help the environment is to simply consume less or at least consume in a more environmental friendly manner.
In lieu of holiday gift giving, a good alternative is to donate to your favorite eco or social organization. Many organizations allow you to make a donation in someone’s name (so donate to a loved one’s favorite non-profit, in their name). If you give gifts, try to make greener choices (such as buying an eco-friendly products), buy gifts that people need (instead of want), or make your own holiday gifts! Plan ahead so you don’t make too much food (leftovers are great, but there is such a thing as too many leftovers). Make only enough for the holiday meal and leftovers for only a couple days.
My article on making liquid soap nut cleanser:
About The Author:
Li Wong is the owner of Earth Alkemie, an all natural, vegetarian skin care and perfume company. She has a B.A. in Environmental Studies (Biology) and a M.S. in Environmental Science and Policy. Li has been crafting natural cosmetics and studying aromatherapy and herbalism since 2001. Environmental interests include conservation, botany, ethnobotany (uses of plants by indigenous peoples), mammals, organic standards in cosmetics, urban wildlife issues, environmental education and awareness, and public perception. She is the all natural beauty website’s Eco Living and DIY Natural Beauty Formulating Expert, and the anb’s mall Eco Living writer. http://www.anbportal.com/meet_the_all_natural_beauty_experts.htm
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