How to Go Green for the Holidays

My mom loves to talk about the holidays of yesteryear, when times were simpler. Sometimes I think a more simplistic view of the holiday season would be a refreshing approach to what can seem like a glutinous, amped up season of eating, shopping, parties, presents, and…trash! If you’ve ever found yourself after your holiday dinner stuffed, tired, broke, and surrounded by mounds of wrapping paper headed toward the dump, then I have good news. There is a better way, and it doesn’t mean we need a time machine to head back to 1950. Today I’m sharing tips for How to Go Green for the Holidays, so we can experience a respite from the stress of the holidays.

How to Go Green For the Holidays

Our annual family dinners used to be hectic to say the least. Rather than a time of peace and good will, it was more like an exercise in frustration and bad moods; a real assault on our peace of mind.

Over the years we’ve changed things up a little, and as a result, we’re experience more of the glad tidings of the season. We wanted to share some How to Go Green for the Holidays to help you experience the joy of the season as well.

Tips for How to Go Green for the Holidays

We usually chuckle when we see campaigns called “Save the planet”! As if the planet needs us to help it out. The thing is, the planet has been here for billions of years and will probably be here a few billion more, whether or not humans are along for the ride. But I guess save the planet is a better soundbite than save the planet for human habitation. If we want to hang out on planet earth a little longer, then we really need to start taking action to make sure we preserve the conditions that allow us to stay alive. Believe it or not, the holiday season is a perfect time to start taking action because we really do start accumulating a lot of waste during the season (think lights, packaging, and wrapping paper). So, why not make “tis the season” all about how to go green for the holidays!

These are our favorite tips for How to Go Green for the Holidays. Use these so you can reclaim the season of peace as well!

  • Slow Down. Seriously. Join the Slow Food movement which encourages savoring your food, including enjoying the time to prepare it and share it with friends and family. Slow Food also embraces sustainable farming practices, including buying local foods rather than food produced from factory farming.

Every aspect of our lives is, in a sense, a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. — Frances Moore Lappéauthor of Diet for a Small Planet

  • Au Naturale. Decorating is one of the best parts of the holiday season, and there’s one easy and affordable tip to decorate more sustainably. Pick natural materials over plastic whenever you can. For example, I made some lovely natural table top decorations using simple store-bought candles and acorns gathered from my yard. You could do something similar using pine cones too. Also, this year I’m definitely going to be giving this DIY Spruce Wall Art from Home Depot a try.
Home Depot DIY Spruce Wall Art
  • The Sustainable Table. In the process of becoming more environmentally aware, how you prepare your table for the holidays matters. Try using real plates, like old china, and silverware for a festive and classy touch this year. If you’re going to buy disposable, choose organic materials like bamboo over plastic. What you use and throw away is going back into the earth, why not choose something that started there.
  • Menu Planning. The NUMBER ONE thing you can do to help the environment is to eat vegetarian and vegan. I realize not everyone is going to jump 100% onto the vegan bandwagon (but what fun would that be!). But just so you know, you could have a completely delicious holiday dinner without any meat and you would still have a wonderful time. I promise. And not only would you be saving your family from the dangers of excessive cholesterol from a standard American Diet kind of holiday meal, you’d also be making huge strides toward conserving the planet for human habitation. Don’t take my word on that either. The Scientific Report of the US Dietary Guidelines recently provided an edict: eat more veggies! There are similar reports from the United Nations, the Center for Food Safety, Natural Resources Defense Council, and more. If you don’t think you can go whole hog vegan this holiday season, consider adding more plant-based dishes on your holiday table. See the links below for some great plant-based holiday themed recipes.

A moderate to strong evidence base supports recommendations that the U.S. population move toward dietary patterns that generally increase consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, while decreasing total calories and some animal-based foods. — 2015 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee

  • Greener Gifting. Do you oftentimes groan when you think of buying gifts for the holidays? That may be a sign you’re due for an overhaul. You can be a greener gifter by following these steps:
    • Reduce. We used to give gifts to each kid in the family. Every adult was buying every child a present. It was crazy. Almost literally. The kids would get a crazed look on their faces as they ripped open one present after another. We would also exchange gifts between the adults too. Then we’d find ourselves surrounded by mounds of used wrapping paper, ready to go to the trash can. Finally, the adults put our heads together and said…enough! Each of our separate families do their own Christmas morning, so we’re on our own for gifting rules there. However, for our extended family gathering, we no longer buy gifts for adults and we draw names of children (usually at Thanksgiving), and each child now receives one gift. It’s much more manageable both from the gift buying and the gift opening process. The goal here is to reduce the number of people you’re giving gifts to.
    • Go Consumable. A good rule of thumb for gifts is to make them consumable. In fact, add homemade and that makes it even better. Why not make some delicious Vegan Banana Bread to give as gifts to neighbors, friends, and family! It’s a beautiful (and tasty) gesture that people can enjoy for days to come. You can also give chocolates or flavored popcorn as gifts. Shawn is not a big fan of gifts and so each year I surprise him with consumable gifts on Christmas morning. I buy him things he won’t typically buy for himself, like his favorite organic breakfast cereal (that we don’t buy on a usual basis because it’s kind of pricey), granola, chocolate covered dried fruits, nut mixes, and more. It’s a lot of fun to see him open (and eat) these delicious, but really practical gifts.
    • Be Organic. Another great holiday gift guideline is to buy gifts that are organic or natural. Clothing made from organic fabric, like cotton, is much more sustainable and easier on the environment. You can even buy products that use recycled materials.
    • Packaging. Americans generate millions of tons of extra garbage during the holiday season. Look for products that provide minimal or recycled packaging.
    • Wrap it. Hey, you gotta wrap the present, so why not choose something green. I don’t mean the color green, although that does work nicely this time of year. A brown paper package tied up with a bow is a classic favorite. But you can also use newspaper, sheet music, or even plain white tissue paper. I’m a big fan of gift bags because they can be used over, and over, and over again. If you’re going to buy gift wrapping, just be sure to choose one that’s made from recycled paper.
    • Recycle. Don’t just throw all the discarded gift wrap in a trash bag. Recycle it! We have recycling centers throughout our city. It’s a nice excuse to get out and about the day after the big dinner!
    • Be Charitable. Struggling to find the perfect gift for someone who already seems like the have it all? How about a charitable gift to a non-profit organization in their name? Some of our favorites include:
  • Light it Up! As I said above, decorating for the holidays is so much fun, and we all know that lights are a big part of that. You can lower your use of energy dramatically by using LED string lights. LEDs use around 90% less energy and last 10-15 times longer. Besides, LED bulbs light things up cooler, reducing your risk of fire.
  • Timing is Perfect! Another tip that goes along with lighting is to be sure to use a timer for all of your holiday lights. Otherwise it can be easy to forget the lights burning outside or the tree in the dining room, etc. A timer does all the work for you and makes sure the lights get turned off.
  • Treecycle. We use a fake Christmas tree. We’ve had the same one for about 20 years now so we feel like that’s been a good investment. If you prefer to get a fresh tree, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans buy fresh Christmas trees every year. The trick is to make sure you’re recycling that tree rather than sending it off to the dump where it can take nearly 30 years to decompose. Here are some tips for recycling your Christmas tree after the holidays:
    • Some cities have Christmas tree recycling programs. Do a search for your city with the words Christmas Tree Recycling to see if yours does this as well. Sometimes, in exchange, the city will provide you with some free mulch.
    • If you have room in your yard, you can place your tree in the back yard where it can provide shelter for birds and other wildlife. Place popcorn or orange slices to attract birds.
    • Cut the limbs off your tree and chop the trunk into pieces and place them in garden refuse bags for curbside pickup.
    • Living, rooted trees. You can buy a living, rooted tree where the roots are covered in burlap and then plant it in your yard after the holidays. Be sure to pick a tree that’s native to your area to give it the best chance of survival.

If most of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. — J. R. Tolkien

  • Shopify. Be sure to do all your holiday shopping with a reusable cloth bag. That’s right, those cloth bags don’t have to be only for grocery shopping! We keep a variety of sizes of cloth bags in our car and carry them in to places like Costco or Marshall’s, etc. The goal is to reach the point where we’re never bringing home plastic bags from the store. It’s good to have goals!
  • Green Holiday Travel. For millions of Americans, the holidays means traveling. To make your footprint lighter on the road, look for hotels that are locally owned or are committed to reducing their environmental impact. Go to your hotel’s website prior to booking your trip to determine their efforts toward being more sustainable. For example, Hilton describes how improving sustainability is a core driver over the last several years. Whatever hotel you stay at, you can make a difference by putting up a “do not disturb” sign in your room so your towels aren’t changed out each day of your stay. I’ve provided some Vegan Travel Tips as well that can help you be a little more green on the road.

Vegan Holiday Meals

Our tips on How to Go Green for the Holidays can go well beyond decorations ad presents. Remember, adding more plant-based meals to your day has the biggest impact on the environment. Go green. Go veggie! Here are some of our favorite vegan dishes for the holidays!

This delicious craisin encrusted vegan cheese ball is served with smokey, gluten-free crackers. You're gonna love it!

Sage and Gouda Vegan Cheese Ball – a perfect appetizer to get your holiday partying started out right!

Perfect Seven Layer Salad by Namely Marly

Vegan Seven Layer Salad. I used to refer to this as heart attack on a plate…until I veganized it!

Vegan Holiday Casserole

Vegan Broccoli Salad

The most beautiful pie in the word - Vegan Chocolate Meringue Pie

Vegan Chocolate Meringue Pie. Yeah, that’s right. Meringue gone Vegan.

Caramel Pumpkin Cheesecake - a vegan delight to share with family and friends

Vegan Pumpkin Caramel Cheesecake. Sustainable just got a little more interesting. Don’t you think?

Vegan Sweet Potato Casserole

Vegan Cheesy Pull-Apart Bread

Vegan Cheesy Pull-Apart Bread

As you can see there are so many ways for learning How to Go Green for the Holidays. We hope some of these tickled your fancy. What are your favorite ways to get your green in?

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