‘Tis the Season for Sustainability

By Jenevra Wetmore

With Thanksgiving comes Black Friday, which is followed by the unending barrage of advertisements that ramp up every year around the Holiday season. Limited time offers, buy one get one deals, life-changing sales… we’re all familiar with the commercialization of the holidays. All this pressure can suck us into the over-consumption loop of buying too many items (especially throw-away items) that end up in landfills. In short, the way we celebrate the holiday season directly harms our planet. This doesn’t mean that Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza is cancelled. Instead, make this the season that you take control of your holiday with some small changes.

Give Sustainable Gifts

You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: shop locally! In doing so you’ll be investing in your community and local economy. Many of our local small businesses are selling items made locally, from cheese and jams to wooden cutting board, pottery, and clothing. Some examples of gifts I have given in the past include a wreath made of organic dried flowers from Wood Frog Flowers, jams from Blake Hill Preserves, Darn Tough socks, and a hand-painted lampshade from Lampscapes. There are plenty of online Vermont gift guides if you’re lost for ideas, or head to your town’s local holiday market. As a side note– studies reveal that at least 25% of returned items are thrown in a retailer’s dumpster. They lack staff and time to reshelve their products. It’s better to give a gift card so the recipient gets something they will keep.

If you have a crafting talent of your own, try making homemade gifts such as ornaments, soaps, cookies, jams, scarves, artwork, potted plants, pottery, woodworking… the list goes on. Or, gift an experience– think of all the local BnBs, theatre, films, music, restaurants, and activities to experience. Lastly, the gift idea that truly gives back: donating to charity. There are so many charities in the Upper Valley and Vermont as a whole, and you’re sure to find one that fits the person you’re giving to. 

Recycling and Wrapping Paper

Please, for the sake of our recycling centers, do not recycle your wrapping paper until you have examined what it is made of! It may be called wrapping “paper” but if you look at the actual materials that go into most wrapping paper you’ll find glitter, laminated surfaces, plastic, foil, and other non-recyclable materials. Buy recyclable wrapping paper, or look out for wrapping paper made of 100% paper (100% recycled paper is event better!). Never try to recycle wrapping paper with sparkles, fuzzy material, foil, or anything that feels like plastic. 

Or, you can skip traditional wrapping paper altogether. Go outside the box and try other materials such as: plain brown or white paper, the comic section of your newspaper, old maps, a reusable cloth bag, or a bandana or scarf. Your presents don’t have to be boring to be sustainable– try decorating with evergreen sprigs, pinecones, and dried flowers. 

The Holiday Tree

As someone who celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah, and has a birthday directly after Christmas, a “Christmas” tree can represent many things, all of which are celebratory and joyful. But a tree is only as good as its environmental impact. If you want your tree to be the most environmentally-friendly it can be, first thing’s first: Artificial trees may reduce your pre- and post- holiday stress, but there is little about them that’s environmentally friendly. They’re manufactured with PVC plastic and metal, and are typically shipped from places far from the U.S. They can be reused year after year but eventually they will end up buried in a landfill.  As far as we know, there is nowhere locally where they can be recycled.

Photo caption & credit: Harvesting a locally-raised Christmas tree is a tradition that supports local growers and can be done sustainably when the post-holiday tree is returned to the soil (see suggestions, above).  Photo by Julianna Arjes on Unsplash.

Instead, buy a locally-grown tree to minimize transportation and support the local economy. Holiday trees are grown to be harvested and are continually being replaced with new seedlings. Check with your grower to see if they use pesticides, which can spread to the natural environment where the trees are grown, or buy an organic tree. Another option growing in popularity is a living tree, which can live in a pot in the house for under a week, and can then be planted outside. Either way, don’t forget the LED lights. 

When the holidays are over and your tree’s needles are covering the floor, don’t dump it in the trash! Return your dead tree to nature, if you have a forested area to put it in. You can mulch your garden with the boughs of the tree, chip the wood to use on garden paths, or leave your tree in the yard for critters and birds to take advantage of. The Hartford Transfer Station also accepts trees, if you lack yard space. They are added to the brush pile there, chipped, and stay on site. 

We wish you a happy, and sustainable, holiday!


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