By Jane Leverich, Contributor
Picture this: it’s December 22nd. Your foyer is filled with online shopping packaging, your garbage is bursting with half eaten food from the holiday party you hosted the night before, there is a pile of holiday cards on your counter waiting to be sent out to loved ones, and don’t even get me started on all those presents that need to be wrapped. All signs point to “the most wonderful time of the year” – otherwise known as…the holiday season. While these are all implications of a successful holiday season, it’s hard not to think about the not-so-sexy implications of all that waste! Don’t worry though…we’ve got you covered.
Now, picture this: it’s December 8th, and we have finally made it to that five week stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day that has so many times been dubbed “the most wonderful time of the year.” And why wouldn’t it be? It’s a chance to spend time with friends and family, drink champagne, eat good food, give presents to those closest to us…it is a time of love and giving!
If this time really is so “wonderful,” though, why do we (myself included) seem to spend too much money and create WAY too much waste during this small stretch on the calendar every single year?
This holiday season, I want to talk about sustainability. That little “s” word that seems to go in one ear and out the other as so many of us plan for the holiday season.
Did you know that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans throw out 25% more garbage than any other time of the year? That’s an extra 25 million tons of garbage!
So let’s move away from this notion of always wanting more during the holidays (more presents to give, more parties to host, more “Season’s Greetings” cards to write, etc…) and bring our focus back to what the holidays are really about – giving love, supporting our local community and sharing special experiences with those closest to us.
Sustainability can be defined as the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level – the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.
I know I’m not the only person worried about this planet we call home, especially around this time of year. Here are a few sustainability tips that I’m working into my holiday season this year, and I invite you to do the same! A few sustainable changes go a long way.
- Shop Local!
As someone who recently moved to Denver, I am so excited to shop for gifts at local merchants, craft fairs and boutique shops! Want to get something unique for someone special in your life? Ditch Amazon Prime (and all the wasteful packaging that comes with it) and check out some of your local vendors! In the Denver area? Head to 5 Green Boxes for some of the coolest artwork, glassware and so much more!
Looking to make holiday shopping into an event you can enjoy? Check out the Denver Christkindl Market – a winter (shopping) wonderland where local vendors sell handmade gifts while shoppers are surrounded with carolers, the holiday spirit and don’t forget the specialty food and drink stands!
- No Throwaways
Hosting a holiday dinner or party? If you’re anything like me, you’ll love going the extra mile to make everything perfect – charcuterie boards, flowers, decorations, I could go on…. It’s tough to be sustainable when hosting a party, BUT these small tips will go a long way!
When it comes to dining, swap out plastic utensils, cups and plates for reusable alternatives. Similarly, instead of using Saran Wrap or aluminum foil to keep leftovers fresh, invest in reusable, glass storage containers. For all of the half-eaten food items that can’t be saved for lunch the next day, give guests the easy option of composting.
By clearly marking three bins as either “recycle,” “compost” or “garbage,” guests can easily distinguish where either a glass bottle (recycle) or an unfinished plate of food (compost) goes. Composting food waste is super easy to do and can reduce the amount of methane emissions in our landfills! Curious about composting? Denver Urban Gardens offers free classes on composting from April through October, and if you’re looking to learn more right now, they’ve got some great info about composting on their website!
- Get Your Food Locally
Speaking of dinner parties – where is all that food coming from? It’s freezing cold in Denver right now, but somehow Whole Foods had strawberries for those fancy cocktails you were making…? Just as it’s important to buy gifts locally, it’s important to support our community and eat locally as well! Each time you sit down to eat, I can almost guarantee you that you’re consuming products that have traveled the equivalent distance of a drive from New York City to Denver.
This holiday season, try eating locally! While this might require a bit more reading while you’re grocery shopping, challenge yourself to only purchase food items from 100 miles, or less, away.
Another great way to eat locally and reduce distance from farm to table is to become part of a farm sharing program or Community Supported Agriculture (“CSA”). CSA systems are built on connecting people to the source of their food by directly linking consumers with producers. For a certain sum of money, you can hold a stake in a local farm, and, in turn, you will receive a specific amount of whatever that farm harvests. Consumers do share risks and rewards with farmers by operating on a seasonal and local schedule.
Denver has a few local farm shares you can get involved with, but GoFarm Local Food Shares continues its services all year round. Much of the produce at GoFarm comes from Denver farms, including MicroFarms Colorado. MicroFarms is dedicated to transforming wasted urban lawns into gardens that people can eat from. Other winter CSA’s can be found here.
- Give Gifts that Give
Instead of heading to the mall to do last minute holiday shopping, why not give a gift that gives back to a charity or to your local community? Not only are you able to give someone something unique, but you are, in turn, helping an organization or other people in need.
Hope Tank is a store in Denver that sells handmade products by local artists who have joined in Hope Tank’s mission of donating a portion of sales to a charity of the artist’s choosing. Hope Tank has a variety of inventory to connect customers to local nonprofit partners. A unique, handmade gift that gives back to local charities? Sign me up.
Still interested in making holiday shopping into something you can enjoy? Check out Firefly Handmade Holiday Market in Boulder. Here, you’ll find tons of unique, handmade goodies! The best part? Firefly Markets pairs with multiple charity partners who share their goals of supporting the local handmade community and enriching the cultural options unique to Colorado.
- Use Recycled Materials for Wrapping Paper and Holiday Cards
How much time and money do we spend each year on wrapping paper…something that is forgotten in minutes! To make matters worse, most wrapping papers aren’t even recyclable. Obviously you’re not going to give someone a gift that isn’t wrapped though…right? Cue eco-friendly wrapping paper! Most of the time, you don’t even have to go out and buy it. Got any extra brown paper grocery bags lying around? Or what about a few pages of newspaper? Not only are both of these options recyclable and cost-effective, but they look super chic, especially when paired with a festive ribbon.
If wrapping all of those gifts didn’t take enough time, of course there are holiday cards to be sent. Why not send out cards made from 100% recycled materials? Not only does Paper Culture create all of their products with sustainable materials, but for every order placed, a tree is planted where reforestation is most needed. Talk about killing two birds with one stone! Helping out the planet while not missing a beat on your yearly season’s greetings card!
Incorporate these few simple, sustainable tips into your holiday season this year and see how much of a difference you can make! We don’t want it to be “the most wonderful time of the year…?” we want it to be “the most wonderful time of the year!”