Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Waste, waste, to bring Him laud

Tips for an eco-friendly holiday abound. In November, the Popular Science e-newsletter told me how to plan a waste-free Thanksgiving. Next will be a Green New Year. I'm thinking of Christmas right now, because that's what I'm celebrating, but it could be any holiday, any time of year. Our practices could be more sustainable.

How many single-use decorations and wrappings will be in your trash bin? Or how about the outdoor decorations that abandon your yard with one big gust of wind? Will you retrieve them from the neighbor's bushes down the block or shrug it off as litter you couldn't help? How much packaging are you throwing out with each daily Amazon delivery? How much uneaten food?

There's a sound argument that the little things, like reusing a paper gift bag, won't save the planet. I'd posit instead that, while those little things on their own don't make a big enough dent, our subtle changes in habits do start to change our attitudes. And, a change in attitude will change our approach to both little and big things. 

It works in both positive and negative ways. Consider the age-old advice that you can set yourself on the path to success throughout the rest of the day with just the small sense of accomplishment you get from making your bed in the morning. The implied opposite is that when you stop caring about little maintenance things, you'll stop caring about big ones, too, and eventually reach the "it's already a huge mess, so what's the point?" point. 

Bleh! Choose to care about some small things! Make the effort!

Let's clarify -- I'm not telling you to sweat the small stuff and suffer great anxiety worrying about little things. I'm asking you to care about some little things. Worry and care do not go hand in hand. Caring is a positive energy that you can use to take action, however small. Worry is a fear-based, negative energy that often stands in the way of productivity. Example: Worrying about an elderly relative and calling her five times a day will not necessarily prevent her from slipping and falling at home and may only slightly relieve your anxiety about that. Stopping by to drop off a meal and help her get some things from a high shelf is a productive act of care.

But I'm not an anxiety counselor, so let's get back to having a green holiday with a quick digest of the little ways we can take care to minimize our celebrations' environmental impact. 

There are so many considerations to sustainability. Food waste, energy waste, air pollution, water pollution, adding to landfills, contaminating recycling batches... Many of which come with the tacit waste of time and money -- either your own or that of whoever's cleaning up after you. 

Planning is the key word in avoiding almost any kind of waste. Plan your route to save gas. Plan your list to save time (and money) in the store. Plan your online shopping to get as many items in as few shipments as possible, to minimize your delivery transit and packaging footprint. Plan your meals to avoid wasting any food.

Reusable is another key consideration. It's obvious that sturdy, reusable decorations are better than the flimsy, one-use kind that you'll just throw away and buy again. Reusable packaging is another no-brainer, such as the everlasting and ever-trendy mason jar, or something as simple as a rectangle of fabric, like beeswax-soaked food wraps or colorfully patterned furoshiki. Look them up.

Another major holiday item that's reusable? Your food. Actually eat your leftovers!

There is one single-use decoration that is more sustainable than its reusable counterpart. Real Christmas trees. They're grown for the purpose of being cut, are continually replenished, and handily convert carbon dioxide into oxygen in the meantime. That is, if your tree was farmed locally. If you're trucking in a specialty fir from across the country, you missed the point.

But, say you have pine allergies or just prefer a fake Christmas tree. Several sources estimate you'd need to keep it for at least 10 years before its carbon footprint equals that of one real tree. We have indeed used our big artificial tree for more than a decade, and I'm fairly certain my grandma's tree is at least twice that old. Take care of your fake tree!

You may have noticed the recurring theme of waste management. It's as important big-picture (i.e. national environmental policy) as it is in your own home. So here's the point I really want to drive home.

You do not have to eschew a wonderfully extravagant holiday for austere minimilism in order to celebrate sustainably. (Minimilists may argue with me, but I'm for diversity of lifestyle within environmental reason.)

You can still serve an expensive roast, a beautiful platter of vegetables and decadent desserts, but think quality over quantity. How much food do you really need for the number of people you're hosting? Maybe locally, sustainably sourced meat becomes more affordable when you realize you only need half as many pounds of it as you're inclined to buy. Alternatively, if you make a huge turkey because you like plenty of leftovers, evaluate how many days' of those leftovers you're truly willing to endure before you automatically buy the biggest one you can find.

Decorate your house with a million lights if that brightens your holiday, but use the ones you already own first. Yes, spend just a little time to find and replace the two bulbs that are causing the whole strand to go out. If you "need" to buy more, go for the new LED lights, which draw less energy. 

Bake a bunch of cookies if you like, but again, first consider how many you (and your family, friends, dog walkers, mail carriers, passersby) will really eat, and make that many instead of a zillion just because. And, try to do it efficiently, so your oven is not left heating for unnecessarily long (or frequent) periods.

Reduce what you buy and use, whenever you can. Reuse what you already have, even repairing or repurposing as needed. And, when you must throw it out, take care to separate and recycle what you can.

It comes back to those key words. Plan to reduce your waste. Manage the waste you cannot avoid generating. 


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