Making Your Holiday Season More Sustainable

rē•spin your holiday traditions.

By: rē•spin
Making Your Holiday Season More Sustainable

The holiday season can feel excessive at times. We purchase new decor, feel the need to show up with a gift, and attend feast after feast with a surplus of food to be served. With a focus on all things new at this time of year, it presents a seemingly daunting challenge of creating a holiday laden with waste. So how can we do more with less but with the same love and gratitude we’ve had in the past?

rē-flecting on your holiday mindset

Everything we do has an impact on the world that surrounds us. We have to nourish the earth the same way we nourish ourselves and approach our daily lives and special occasions with an environmentally conscious mindset, including the holiday season. 

Kira Simpson, sustainable living educator and founder of The Green Hub, explains, “We don’t have to continue with the holiday traditions that leave us broke and the planet broken.”

To curb the need to purchase all things new, Simpson suggests considering if you truly need what you’re buying or if you have something similar at home. Think about how often you will use said item, whether or not it is well-made, what space it has in your life today and in the future. Take time to truly understand why you want to buy it. She explains, “You can have a wonderful and love-filled holiday season without a ton of plastic decorations, new outfits, and excessive gifts. The people who love you will be happy with the time spent together.”

rē-thinking your decor

The decor is one of the core aspects of any holiday season. And yet, much of it consists of plastic, non-recyclable materials that can end up as trash. So how can we tackle what can be a source of happiness during this time of year with a more sustainable edge?

“When it comes to decorations, just being mindful of the materials they’re made from and whether they might be able to be reused can make a big difference,” Simpson explains. “We don’t need new decorations every few years. Use what you already have and when you need to buy new ones, choose decor made from durable materials like glass, wood, felt, and cotton, and things that will last for many years. Try to avoid tinsel, plastic decorations, and anything shiny or covered in glitter.”

As we approach the winter months, you can also consider getting creative. Take a more DIY approach to replace the tinsel and wreaths. Instead, Simpson recommends opting for foraged materials. It is better for the environment and can become a bonding experience as you join family and friends to craft the decor.

If you celebrate Christmas and decorate with a tree, it’s also important to consider its environmental impact. If you go for a real tree, it’s important to dispose of it responsibly. Cut it up to become garden mulch or research local disposal options. On the other hand, if you’re going the faux-tree route, the best thing to do is to stick with the same tree year after year. Simpson states, “The most sustainable items are the ones we already own.”

rē-spinning mealtime

Food is central to celebrations in our lives. And Simpson says that it’s one of the aspects of the holiday where we can make the most significant impact when it comes to making more conscious decisions. This is true from the meal itself to how we serve it to our guests, all the way to how we clean up afterward.

When deciding on a tablescape for the holiday season, Simpson emphasizes the importance of reusables. That can be table runners, linens, pottery; you name it. Investing in well-made pieces to use year after year is essential when embracing a more sustainable lifestyle. She also advises creating centerpieces out of fragments of living decor. These can include potted plants, upcycled items, or edible materials, so nothing gets thrown out at the end of the night.

From the menu for the evening, Simpson suggests making small, subtle changes when choosing what to cook and serve for your guests.

Have one less meat dish this year and introduce a few plant-based dishes into the menu, or switch out one or two desserts with a dairy-free option,” she explains. “To manage your food waste, only buy as much as you need, use up leftovers, send people home with a meal, and freeze what you can’t eat for lunch the next day (and the day after, and the day after that!).”

Cleaning up doesn’t have to feel like a daunting task, either. Simpson has five words to keep in mind: rē-duce, rē-use, rē-purpose, rē-cycle, and rot. 

“The clean-up begins with planning and reducing waste at the start, and investing in reusables like decor, wrapping, and serving dishes means less to throw away at the end,” she says. “Save items you can reuse or repurpose for next year, and learn how to recycle what you can’t use. Everything else can go to the compost (natural materials and food scraps), and what’s left should only be a small amount of trash.”

The gift of giving

It wouldn’t be the holiday season without giving – giving back, giving to others, and even giving to ourselves from time to time. The significance of the gift is not in the number of gifts nor the amount of money spent. Instead, Simpson emphasizes gifting with intention. She focuses on providing our loved ones with thoughtfully-made pieces to be cherished.

As much as a surprise can be thrilling, she suggests starting with one simple question to eliminate waste – “What would you like?”

“Give an experience, something they’ve always wanted to try, a nice dinner or just your time, offer a day out together – create some memories together,” she adds. “Gift a service, too. So many of us are time-poor and overworked – something that helps relieve the workload will be very appreciated. Think of meal delivery services, a house cleaning or organization service, or babysitting.”


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