The winter holiday is approaching and many of us are full of anticipation to spend extra time with family, eat delicious foods, cozy in by the fire, and exchange meaningful gifts. The holidays are a great time to relax, rejoice, and reflect on the past year. If we are not careful however, they can also be a time of outrageous waste, pollution, and consumerism. With a little added thought and time, minimizing your carbon footprint over the holidays can be achieved without taking away from the spirit of celebration. Below are some of SLVEC’s top suggestions for how to be eco-aware as you enjoy the holidays this year.
1) Travel Smart
These days it is common to travel great lengths to visit friends and family during the holidays. For long distances, air travel is generally more sustainable. Though convenient, it is also proving to have big environmental repercussions, with the airline industry producing around 11% of all emissions in the US transportation sector and around 2% of total human produced carbon emissions.
The solution is to fly less but if that is not an option you can still make an impact by choosing a nonstop flight. Estimates from NASA suggest that around one quarter of all emissions from airfare occur during take off and landing. By choosing non-stop flights, you can cut out unnecessary takeoff/landing cycle pollutants.
Furthermore, by foregoing luxury, you may be able to make flying more efficient. The World Bank reports that emissions from coach passengers are around three times less than business class passengers because seats are smaller, allowing for more people to travel at once. A first-class passenger’s carbon footprint thus may be as much as nine times great than an economy passenger.
While you are enjoying that economy seat, take the next step by skipping complimentary snacks, drinks, or any product wrapped in plastic (headphones, blankets, etc.) provided during the flight. TSA allows you to bring your emptied reusable water bottle as well as non-liquid snacks. Prepare your travel food ahead and fill up your bottle once through security to minimize waste on the plane.
Lastly, do your part by minimizing your luggage. It may seem silly, but every pound counts on a plane. The heavier the plane, the more energy it needs to take off, fly, and land. Fly Aware reports that 22 tons of CO2 could be saved if every passenger packed one less pair of shoes on a flight from Heathrow to Dublin. Overtime, this number could have significant impact on C02 emissions.
2) Green Giving
Giving and receiving gifts is a highlight for many families and friends during the holidays. Nonetheless, the carbon footprint from packing, delivering, and manufacturing material goods adds up, especially during the holidays. Think about how much energy it takes to produce each gift you buy. What materials went into making it? Are they recyclable or reusable? Where do they come from and how far will they travel to reach your loved one? Buying local, hand crafted goods, or food items can be a good way to keep your gifts eco-friendly.
Additionally, giving an experience, such as a season pass to a hot springs, tickets to a concert, a cooking class, a massage, etc., is an excellent ways to give a meaningful gift without any material transaction. Funding an enriching activity can bring great satisfaction to the recipient and show that you put time and thought into the gift. These gifts also save on wrapping paper and shopping bags which generates around 4 million tons of waste each Christmas in the US alone. Furthermore, estimates suggest that 50,000 trees must be cut down each year to provide for our wrapping paper needs. If you do need to wrap a gift, consider using decorative cloth or reused paper/bags.
3) Conscious Consumption
The holidays are a time to indulge, and food is no exception! There is no shame in consuming a few more calories than usual, but ideally not at the cost of the environment. We all want to make sure our families are stuffed over the holidays, but do we really need to order, prepare, and serve so much food? A study in the UK estimated that over 4 million plates of Christmas dinner are thrown out each year. This includes meat, potatoes, vegetables, breads, deserts and much more that all took time, land, energy, and water to produce.
Furthermore, all of these foods came in a package, many of which are not recyclable and will end up in the landfill. So, the simple solution to food and packaging waste is to be a bit more modest in your food purchases this year. Only buy as much food as you think you will need to adequately serve your guests. Freeze excess leftovers or hand them out to neighbors or loved ones. As well, consider purchasing your vegetables, grains, meats, and dairy from a local farm. Visit the San Luis Valley Food Coalition’s website to read up on local producers. Lastly, when purchasing foods, don’t forget to bring your reusable shopping and produce bags!
The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council extends warmth and joy to all our members this holiday season. Nourish, cherish your company, travel safe, and don’t forget to consider the planet while you do so!