Green Your Holidays
Tips for more sustainable holiday activities, which are often less stressful as well!
Celebrated by children and adults alike, Halloween often entails excessive spending on costumes, candy, decorations, and parties, which also results in greater resource use and waste. This Halloween, why not celebrate in a "greener" and simpler way — which often ends up being more fun too!
Create your own original costume designs using ideas from books and the Internet (for example, see the Center for a New American Dream). A visit to your local thrift shop can also inspire creativity. If you decide to buy a costume, pass it on to family or friends, or donate to a charity.
Plan a family outing to the local farmer’s market or “pick-your-own” orchard for pumpkins, apples, squashes, gourds, and other seasonal produce. You’ll be supporting local farmers and saving resources by going straight to the source. To find a farm near you, visit www.pickyourown.org.
Pumpkin is a delicious and nutritious food — including the seeds. Turn that jack-o-lantern into dinner, dessert, or snack treats. The Center for Biodiversity and Conservation's Living With Nature: Cooking for Biodiversity describes some seasonal and diverse foods, and includes recipes by well-known chefs and authors.
Instead of dishing out store-bought candy, treat guests at parties to home-baked cupcakes, cookies, and other goodies that can be decorated. As an alternative for trick-or-treaters, you can offer miniature boxes of organic raisins, organic chocolate, or fruit leather.
Spiders and bats are more than scary Halloween creatures — they are integral parts of the web of life. Take this opportunity to teach your children fascinating facts about our eight-legged friends here. And they can read a 15-year-old’s award-winning science project on how bats “see” with their ears here. Click here to learn more about the CBC's research on bats of the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area.
With its focus on food, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to celebrate by trying more sustainably produced and diverse foods while still preserving the traditions we love. Most people who gather in honor of Thanksgiving pause to remember the very first celebration of the holiday in America. This year, challenge yourself to duplicate that event by feasting on the local foods that are available at farmers’ markets and some supermarkets.
If you decide to have a turkey, consider a heritage breed from a nearby farm. The varieties of turkeys that were originally cultivated in the US have become extremely rare. Replacing them are turkeys bred for specific traits, with little genetic diversity. Highly susceptible to disease, these animals are often given large doses of antibiotics to ward off infection. The older, hardier varieties eat a diverse diet and can live outdoors, and produce meat that is said to be more rich and flavorful than mass-produced turkeys. To find local meat and also produce, visit Local Harvest.
For more information on seasonal foods, including recipes by well-known chefs and authors, download our Living With Nature: Cooking for Biodiversity booklet. In it, we also invite you to diversify your diet and reduce our collective reliance on a handful of crops grown in uniform monocultures, which are usually dependent upon vast amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Increased interest in sustainable agriculture methods has led a growing number of farmers to incorporate a greater variety of crops, reduce use of chemicals, and preserve natural habitat. In turn, these practices support healthy populations of pollinators, predaceous insects that act as natural pesticides, organisms that help enrich soil, and other benefits from biodiversity. To learn more about soil invertebrates, see the CBC publication Life in the Leaf Litter.
A festive and magical time, the holidays can also be stressful, involving excessive spending on presents, decorations, and parties, resulting in greater resource use and waste. It is estimated that in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, Americans throw away about 25% more trash than during any other time of the year — this extra waste amounts to millions of tons! In response, some organizations have created “green holiday” websites with resources and ideas for cutting waste and energy use while still enjoying a wonderful holiday season. Some of these are listed on the side. Below, we offer some of our favorite tips:
Homemade food is always a welcome gift, and rarely is any wasted! Indulge friends and relatives with your favorite recipes for cookies, cakes, jams, sauces, or other goodies.
Look for greeting cards made with recycled paper — or use “e” cards. For wrapping paper, create a unique look with pictures from last year’s calendar, old maps, or magazines. Gift bags can be reused. Donate the greeting cards you receive to children who will turn them into new cards.
Decorate with LED (light emitting diode) holiday lights. Now widely available, these lights use a fraction of the electricity used by conventional incandescent lights, and stay cool to the touch. If you are replacing old lights, check if your city has an exchange program that swaps LEDs for incandescents, or will accept the old ones for recycling.
Consider organizing a “Yankee Swap” for your holiday party or gift-giving event with coworkers, friends, or family. This is a fun and inexpensive alternative to buying gifts that people may not want or need. (And one person’s old dust-collector may be just what someone else will cherish.) There are several variations of the game, but here are some basic rules:
1) Everyone playing brings something from home that they are happy to part with, and wrap it in reused paper. Count the number of swap participants and write out numbers to match on slips of scrap paper (1 to 25, say).
2) Everyone draws a number at random from a hat or bowl.
3) The person with the lowest number (e.g., #1) selects from the assortment of wrapped gifts and opens it.
4) Each subsequent player selects either an unopened gift from the pile or an already opened gift currently being held by someone else. So, for example, player #4 can choose between a new gift and one opened by players #1, #2, or #3, and so on.
5) When someone’s gift is taken by another player, he or she can then choose a replacement from the unopened pile OR from anyone else currently holding an opened gift, with the exception of the person who has just taken his or her gift.
6) This goes on until everyone has had a turn to select a gift. Since the first person never had a chance to consider snatching something from someone else, player #1 gets the final option to trade gifts with another player.