Sustainability Theme of the Month: Sustainable Holidays

Hello, Warriors! This month, as the holidays are around the corner, we shift our focus on sustainable holidays. Being sustainable doesn't mean we should take away the fun out of the holidays. It just means there are some things we need to be careful about so that our planet won't suffer from the weight of impacts we produce.

What we mean by sustainable holidays

Sustainable essentialsWhen we talk about sustainable holidays, we mean taking a different approach to celebrating the holidays without causing drastic consequences for the environment. The goal is essentially the same as what was signaled by our last blog post on Halloween and Thanksgiving—that is, reducing waste, emissions, and energy. 

There are many factors to consider when discussing sustainable holidays. One main thing is waste. Household waste can increase more than 25% during the holidays, and in Canada, discarded gift-wrapping and shopping bags account for nearly half-a-million of holiday waste that end up in landfills (Waste Week Reduction in Canada, n.d.). 

Emissions produced by holiday travel are another factor to consider.  

Ever heard of Flygskam (a.k.a. flight shaming)?  

Well, it’s a movement originated in Sweden to respond to the growing concern of air travel contributing to climate change. It took off when Greta Thunberg’s mother committed to refuse travelling by air (Coffey, 2020); since then, the country has seen a 4% drop in travelers flying by air through its airports (BBC News, 2020). Evidently, this would not be expected to occur soon in rich countries like Canada in which its travelers produce more carbon emissions elsewhere than in their home country (McGrath, 2018). 

With energy, a study by the US Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) (2008) found that holiday lights use 6.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity every year in the United States. These lights can become too bright that even the NASA people from outer space found that night lights were up to 50% brighter between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day (NASA, 2014), providing a clearer picture of how much energy is used over the holidays. Interestingly, these lights were brighter from rural areas which makes sense as people from urban areas are visiting back home for the holidays.  

Why celebrating sustainable holidays matters 

People lighting punk sticks

For obvious reasons, celebrating the holiday sustainably is important because the planet has had enough of our carelessness. Holidays are celebrated by billions of people around the world, so the impacts add up enormously in a short amount of time. But if everyone becomes mindful of their actions, it can yield massive cumulative effect on our environment. 

Having sustainable holidays not only benefits the environment, but also our community, including small businesses. In Canada, as of 2019, small businesses represent 97.9% of all businesses, yet they see sustainability as a more important aspect of business than large companies do. For example, based on a Waterloo study led by Sarah Burch (2018), it found that 8 out of 10 small and medium enterprises surveyed in Toronto and Vancouver consider sustainability to be important. Thus, supporting local and small businesses will feed their financial capacity to create programs and initiatives to be green, contributing positively to the overall well-being of the planet. 

How we can celebrate the holidays the sustainable way 

There are three areas where you can do your part as an individual, but we recommend following them altogether for bigger outcomes! 

Waste 

  1. Use old materials (e.g. magazines, newspapers, posters, scarves, pieces of clothing, blankets, towels, etc.) for gift-wrapping or making DIY holiday cards.

  2. Avoid paper waste by sending e-cards instead of paper cards. 

  3. Make handmade paper out of recycled materials. Full tutorial can be found here. 

  4. Avoid buying plastic and metallic wrapping paper because they’re often not recyclable.

  5. Say no to things with glitters as they are a source of polluting microplastics. 

  6. Play a little game like hiding unwrapped gifts and giving clues to receiver to where they can find them. 

  7. Measure how much wrap you need to avoid waste and wrap more gifts 

  8. Make or use cards embedded with miniature sunflower seeds. 

  9. Gift bags are another sustainable alternative as they can be reused for future occasions.  

  10. Purchase gifts that last long and are reusable and recyclable. 

  11. Reuse artificial Christmas trees if you have them.  

  12. If you decide to buy a real tree, make sure they are bought locally and/or can be replanted (a potted tree might be a better option). Contact your municipality about proper recycling or composting programs. 

  13. Plan, plan, plan your menu! Use reusable utensils and plates instead of disposables. 

Emissions

  1. Buy locally made products from local businesses.

  2. Consider how far your purchases travel to arrive on your doorstep by avoiding online shopping as possible. 

  3. Prepare plenty of plant-based, local, and in-season options for the menu. 

  4. Avoid short-haul flights if you can and choose sustainable modes of travel like public transport, cycling, or walking.

  5. If you choose air travel, buy carbon credits to offset your emissions and help fund sustainable projects. 

  6. Consider opting for non-stop flights. Planes use more fuel during take-off and landing 

Energy

  1. Use Energy-Star qualified LED lights as they are more efficient than traditional lights. 

  2. Using solar-powered LED lights would be even better! 

  3. Turn down the thermostat and bundle up! Let guests generate body heat to warm up the room! 

  4. Cook multiple items in the same oven and run appliances on full loads. Use toaster or microwave for smaller tasks (melting chocolate, reheating food, etc.) instead of the oven.

  5. Set the holiday mood and save energy by turning off light fixtures or lights in unoccupied rooms. 

  6. Use a timer to control when your holiday lights should be on or off. 

  7. If you have a fireplace, light it. 

Helpful Resources

References

BBC News. (2020). Sweden sees rare fall in air passengers, as flight-shaming takes off. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-51067440.

Burch, S. (2018). GATE Survey Report. Retrieved from https://uwaterloo.ca/environment/sites/ca.environment/files/uploads/files/sme_study_final.pdf.

Coffey, H. (2020.) Flygskam: What is the flight-shaming environmental movement that’s sweeping Europe?. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/flygskam-anti-flying-flight-shaming-sweden-greta-thornberg-environment-air-travel-train-brag-tagskryt-a8945196.html.

Department of Energy. (2008). Energy Savings Estimates of Light Emitting Diodes in Niche Lighting Applications. Retrieved from https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/maprod/documents/Energy_Savings_Light_Emitting_Diodes_Niche_Lighting_Apps.pdf.

McGrath, M. (2018). Tourism’s carbon impact three times larger than estimated. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-44005013.

NASA. (2014). NASA | NASA sees holiday lights from space. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uU0u0LRTNSk

Waste Week Reduction in Canada. (n.d.). Waste-free holidays.  Retrieved from https://wrwcanada.com/en/resource-type/waste-free-holidays.

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