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Sustainable Holiday Hacks: 5 Ways to Have a Happy Holiday Season with Less Hassle

It's the most wonderful time of the year when we reflect on the importance of family, friends, and joy. All the hustle and bustle often means that we create a lot of excess.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans generate an additional 1 million tons of household waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The biggest contributors? Online shopping and associated packaging, decorative wrapping gifts and boxes, and food waste are the biggest problems. They end up in landfills.

Before we dig into some easy hacks, let's put the big debate to rest.

Which is better -- Real vs. Artificial trees?

The answer: real trees.

  • Real trees are better for the environment. Your best bet is a locally grown, real tree. They are farmed like other crops. Even though they take about a decade to grow, sustainable and local farms mean they are part of our natural cycle. They also break down into soil.

  • Make sure to participate in your Xmas tree recycling program in your community. In NYC, for example, participate in Mulchfest, sponsored by NYC parks and NYC Sanitation. Make this part of your holiday tradition. From December 26 to January 9, If you haul your real tree down to one of their sites, they’ll chip into mulch. 29,000 trees were recycled last year!

  • Plastic trees are made of oil and are hard to recycle, but if you have one, by all means keep using it! Remember being a better steward of the environment isn’t about perfection, it’s about progress. Artificial trees are often made of PVC plastic and steel shipped from China, but the more you re-use your plastic tree the better. Recycling plastic trees is hard - they usually end up in the landfill so consider it as something you might pass down. I wish I had my grandparent’s silver aluminum tree from the 1950s!

Here are some quick hacks on how to have less hassle, less waste, and more meaning this holiday season.

1. Decorate without Single Use Plastic

  • Decorating for the holidays is so much fun. If possible, try not to buy any NEW decorations. Use what you have. Make it a trip down memory lane. Consider a decoration swap, or a party, or make your own.

  • Get crafty. Make pinterest your best friend. Use twigs, branches, pinecones, holly for your decorations.

  • For garlands, use real plants or consider trimming them from your tree. Compost them afterwards.

  • Recycle those paper boxes. Americans do a good job of this. We recycle about 90% of our boxes each year. If you have bubble wrap, save it and re-use it.

  • Consider washi tape instead of plastic tape.

  • Use butcher paper and decorate it instead of plastic wrapping paper, if possible. Decorate the paper or ask your kids too.

  • Use re-used wrapping paper.

  • Use twine to tie up presents.

  • Store your paper from years past.

  • Use second hand ornaments and channel your inner Martha Stewart.

2. Embrace the motto "Experiences, not Things!"

  • Embrace this motto this holiday season – “Experiences, not things.” With rising inflation and costs, it's an easier shift. Think about trips, excursions to a museum, lessons like voice or painting together, a hike, walk outside, a dinner out, see a show, go to the movies, a family outing to the library - something that doesn’t involve “stuff.”

  • Think quality over quantity. What’ are a few things your kids REALLY want? Make those a high quality item, then don’t worry about the number of gifts under the tree.

  • Consider resale, second hand, or gently used items. And there is nothing wrong with re-gifting! Seriously!

  • Ask your family what they want! You’d be surprised. They likely want to spend time with you. Teens and other family members may actually appreciate cash instead of stuff.

  • Put your phone down & talk. Watch old movies. Share old photos. Reflect on Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kawanza of the past. At onegreenthing we have a discussion guide for you to download to have meaningful conversations with younger generations about the future we’re leaving them.

  • Plan a day of service. Making calls, delivering meals, helping in the back at a food shelter or warming center. The Coalition of the Homeless in NYC has a directory of where and how you can volunteer or give. New York Cares has a list of organizations to support to connect with the elderly, too. And, of course, support your favorite environmental charity! Embrace the spirit of the holiday season.

3. Green Your Holiday Parties

  • Use REAL stuff. Bring out your fancy dishes or use your everyday wear.

  • Make that kitchen clean up plan. Make it an intergenerational group or ask a friend in advance to stay after the party to help you clean up.

  • Remember less is more!

  • Think about a plant-based party. We’re having vegan pot pies - they were delicious.

  • Compost your food waste.

  • Focus on the company, not the stuff.

  • Make your hostess gift a DONATION to your favorite charity instead of wine or candles.

  • Fast fashion is a big problem. According to the World Bank, it’s responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, “more than all international flights and shipping combined.” Nearly 90% of fiber used in fashion ends up in a landfill.

  • Consider renting your dress, borrowing a friends or shopping second-hand.Or only buy high quality clothing that will last.

4. Tell Stories

Get out the old home movies for photo albums. Share stories about resilience, holidays past, or joyful memories.

  • Share what you're grateful for this year.

  • Take the OGT "Be an Awesome Ancestor" pledge and honor someone - a mentor, friend, or family member - whose made the life you're living now possible.

5. Pay it Forward

  • Make a donation year-end donation to your favorite charity.

  • Share a meaningful moment when someone helped you with a challenge. Carry that spirit forward with a random act of kindness.

  • Commit to volunteering in your community in 2023. Make a plan to support the organizations that help your community thrive.

Ideas on how to have a more sustainable holiday based on Service Superpower:

  • Adventurers: Plan an outing with family or friends to your local nature center.

  • Beacons: Encourage your family and friends to take the Be an Awesome Ancestor pledge at OneGreenThing to commit to daily climate action.

  • Influencers: Share this post!

  • Philanthropists: Make a donation to your favorite charity. We hope you'll consider OneGreenThing!

  • Sages: Consider the spirit of the holiday season and talk to friends and family about how it connects to your work in climate action.

  • Sparks: Join family and friends in volunteering in your community this holiday season.

  • Wonks: Learn more about the rebates and tax incentives for clean cars, new heat pumps, and other home improvements in the Inflation Reduction Act for 2023 and let your friends and family know.


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