By Cindy Riskin, Master Composter Volunteer
When you write up your holiday shopping list, you might consider adding one more gift recipient: the planet. Check out some easy ways to have a greener season by saving food, energy, materials and money.
Reduce Food Waste
You can reduce waste before, during and after holiday meals. The most important step for the environment and your budget is to stop wasting food. In the United States, we waste a quarter of our groceries each year—about $1,600 for a family of four. Food waste accounts for more than 23% of our methane emissions. Estimating how much food to get for the holidays can be especially hard. King County’s Food: Too Good To Waste offers the following food-saving tips:
- Make an “Eat Soon” box for your fridge for food with a nearing expiration date. This tip is especially helpful when piles of holiday leftovers threaten to bury the daily fare.
- Shop your pantry first. Before you buy a second bottle of vanilla extract or a third bag of flour, check what you already have.
- Make a shopping list, check it twice and stick to it. Seasonal goodies and “bargains” are tempting, but buying 10 pomegranates for $10 isn’t a good deal if you throw out 5.
- Recycle leftovers into new meals. Find creative meal options in the “Recipe Resource” section.
How you serve food also matters. If you can’t borrow or rent plates, cups, and cutlery, buy compostable ones. Educate yourself on what is accepted from private homes, and buy in bulk to be ready for your holiday party.
Give Green Gifts
Consider buying local, sustainable or fair trade gifts, or even making your own, this year. Seattle Tilth’s books and goodies like cloche kits and t-shirts make fantastic gifts for the gardener in your life, and you get a gift too when you buy them a two-for-one membership. King County’s EcoConsumer Green Holidays website, from Public Outreach Program Manager Tom Watson, offers tons of homemade gift ideas, ecologically sound entertaining and decorating tips, and links to local fair trade stores. A tip from Watson in the Seattle Times: Some Seattle Seahawks jerseys by Nike are made from recycled materials. Check the label for “100 percent recycled polyester.”
Find a comprehensive list of green companies you can sort by distance in the Organic Consumers Association/GreenPeople Directory or try the 21 Acres Center for Local Food and Sustainable Living for a briefer version.
Consider Experiential Gifts
If crafts aren’t up your alley, consider an alternative to material gifts. The thoughtfulness behind an experiential gift, donation or service may delight your recipient even more. In their May 2015 working paper Giving Happiness: Consumers Should Give More Experiences but Choose Material Gifts Instead, researchers Joseph K. Goodman and Sarah Lim challenge the idea that a gift must be tied with a bow. “Experiential gifts do in fact lead to more happiness than material gifts,” they write.
Think about who in your life might just love the gift of:
- a movie, outdoor adventure, wine tour, or class.
- membership to a nonprofit organization. Search for a nonprofit, or browse by cause at Changing the Present.
- a carbon offset, especially for those traveling this season.
- a donation to a local charity, such as Seattle Tilth, Hope Link or Bike Works. The Seattle Foundation and the Seattle Networking Guide offer even more ways to contribute.
- a much-needed service, such as dog walking or an hour of gardening.
- a few hours of volunteer work at a charity in your recipient’s honor.
Make Customized, Recycled Gift Wrap
If that perfect gift is in physical form, you can make it especially thoughtful by using “gift wrap” customized for the recipient—a map, for a hiker; a kitchen towel, for a cook; a bow made of old VHS tape, for a movie buff; or an inside-out chip bag, for someone who likes a bit of bling… or just chips. With a little creativity, a bit of yarn, or a couple of crayon-equipped kids, you can also spiff up old standbys, such as the Sunday funnies or paper grocery bags.
Your décor can also feature upcycled materials. Try the Green Holidays guide’s garland of old T-shirts, disco-ball CD ornament, or board and bolt menorah.
When buying gifts or decorations, reduce, reuse, and/or recycle packaging. To reduce packaging, combine mail orders. Reusing is better than recycling, so try to find other uses. You can recycle Amazon plastic air padding along with plastic grocery bags.
Use LED Holiday Lights
Finally, you can save $30 or more on your winter electric bill by replacing older holiday lights with LEDs, especially those with an Energy Star rating. LED lights use 90% less energy than mini-lights and 99% less than outdoor, screw-in C-7 bulbs. They’re also safer and last longer. When you buy new LED lights, be sure to recycle your old ones. You can save even more energy by putting holiday lights on a timer, turning them on later in the evening and turning them off when you go to bed.
By following some of these suggestions and finding more, we can perhaps give the greatest gift of all to our loved ones: a healthy future.
Interested in resource conservation topics? Check out our compost and recycling volunteer programs – applications accepted in January and February, training starts in March.
Cindy Riskin is Seattle freelance journalist, Master of Environmental Horticulture and Master Gardener, in addition to being a Seattle Master Composter/Soil Builder.