Joy to the world: 9 ways to give Earth the gift of sustainability

In the era of climate change, do your bit to help Mother Nature.

The holiday season doesn’t have to be a burden on the planet. From being a part-time vegan to ditching plastic food containers, there are many climate-friendly ways to maintain your traditions without breaking the bank or the environment. And better still, you can take these tips into 2023 and beyond.

Recycle your Christmas tree

Unless you plan on turning it into a Mardi Gras tree, you’ll probably say goodbye to it the first week of the New Year. But don’t just throw it in the landfill.

Millions of Christmas trees are thrown away each year. But there are a surprising number of options that you might find in your local area. First, check with your local municipality about any recycling programs. For example, Louisiana uses old Christmas trees to help fight coastal erosion. Chicago’s program, which has existed since 1990, collects old Christmas trees and turns them into mulch. A similar program in Los Angeles turns the trees into compost. According to the Sierra Club, they can also be used to rebuild old dunes and restore other natural habitats.

Here are a few more options to upcycle and recycle your tree.

Extra tip: Buying a natural Christmas tree is better for the environment. Sure, plastic trees can be reused, but they also have a much higher carbon footprint. They are primarily made from plastic and metal and are usually shipped from China.

Ditch traditional wrapping paper for all occasions

Most wrapping paper is mass-produced using unsustainable inks and shiny foils that are hard to recycle. Alternatives include using old maps, newspapers, magazines and paper shopping bags. You can also ditch the tape and use string instead. One fun method is the art of furoshiki wrapping, a Japanese method that only calls for reusable cloth. Wrap it up, tie a knot and decorate with a sprig of mistletoe.

Try being a vegan for part of the week

Being a vegan is one of the best ways to maintain sustainable eating habits, but it can be difficult, depending on what stores you have in your local area. Whole Foods, for example, carries tons of vegan-friendly foods but can also be expensive.

However, veganism on a budget isn’t that hard, according to the vegan society. It just requires some imagination and creativity. Check out the group’s tips here.

Being a vegan for part of the week has immediate health benefits. It can help promote weight loss, reduce your risk of heart disease, lower the chances of getting certain types of cancer, and help manage diabetes, according to doctors.

Eco-friendly and sustainable foods

The foods listed here are vegan, but if you aren’t ready to give up meat just yet, supplement your diet with salmon, chicken and turkey. They are the least harmful to the environment. Most foods with a low environmental impact are considered sustainable. Those are generally local, seasonal, organic and come from sustainably run farms.

Whole grains are an excellent base for any meal. They consume far less water than other foods. A kilogram of wheat, for example, uses a tenth of the water for the same amount of beef. Oatmeal, brown rice rye bread and barley are other sustainable whole grains.

Vegetables should always be organic and locally sourced, but some are more drought-tolerant than others. Those include zucchinis, tomatoes, squashes, melons and mustard greens. Veggies that don’t do well are usually short-rooted, like sweet corn and lettuce.

Legumes should also form a part of any sustainable and healthy diet, but not all legumes are drought-tolerant. Experts recommend sticking with black-eyed peas.

Throw some leafy greens into your diet alongside a meat substitute like tempeh or seitan. Tofu is another excellent option and produces 13 times fewer gas emissions than beef.

For sustainable recipes, visit this website.

Compost your food

Most people have two options when throwing away food. Throw it in the trash or garbage disposal. Neither is good for the environment.

Once the food is landfilled, the energy and water it takes to grow are wasted. After it arrives at the landfill, it rots and creates methane – a greenhouse gas. Garbage disposals can clog your pipes and make the water treatment process more intensive.

So what are the alternatives? If you have one, composting in your yard is by far the most eco-friendly. Once buried, certain bacteria assist in the decomposition process at no cost to the environment. Worms also help digest food waste.

Don’t have a yard? There are no plenty of small food decomposition machines available online.

Service gifts instead of goods

There aren’t too many big-ticket gifts that aren’t made abroad. Furniture, TVs, kitchen appliances, electronics, to name just a few, are transported halfway around the world before they make it to the shelves. They are also packed with metals and plastics that significantly strain the environment. For example, some rarer metals in cell phones are mined by people in horrendous conditions in countries you probably didn’t know existed. Some of those people are children.

The plastics used to produce these items are almost always created from crude oil – the black stuff oil companies pump out of the ground.

Instead, think of gifts that have a more personal touch and require little or no natural resources. Experiences are a great alternative. You could buy someone a message, a day at a spa, tickets for a music show, or what about music lessons? And don’t discount regifting or gifts made from recycled materials.

Naturally powered toys

That means no batteries. Around 40% of all battery sales occur during the holiday season and when discarded, are an environmental hazard, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Naturally powered toys sound archaic, but they served our parents and grandparents perfectly in their childhood. Plus, many can be educational. If you have an infant, many companies sell eco-friendly and non-toxic wooden toys for kids. The Finn & Emma toy brand sells baby clothes and toys that are organic and fair-trade, made with eco-friendly dyes, natural wood, and 100% organic cotton. You can find similar brands here.

For older kids, check out Eartheasy. The company sells a range of science kits that teach kids the basics of renewable energy. They also sell kites!

Use glass containers for leftovers

Plastic is the worst. Aside from the fact that plastic is a petroleum-based product, it’s also not a great thing to store food in. A Harvard study from 2019 noted that even if you buy plastic free of BPA, a toxic chemical linked to all kinds of poor health outcomes, other harmful chemicals may still leach into your food. More so if you microwave the plastic, noted the study.

Glass, on the other hand, doesn’t contain chemicals that leach into your food and creates an actual oxygen barrier and moisture barrier. It’s also far better for the environment because, unlike plastic, its core ingredient wasn’t sucked from an oil field, transported thousands of miles, refined and then used in a chemically intensive process.

Plus, many of the foods we buy come in the glass already, like pasta sauces, peanut butter, jellies and jams, to name a few. Those can be easily cleaned and used over and over again.

Shop at thrift stores instead of buying new

Thrifting clothes and furniture is much better for the environment than buying new, period. Creating new things consumes lots of resources, especially in a world of hyper-consumerism and globalization. That means that we buy more than we need and it comes a long way to get to us. That includes fast fashion and fast furniture – items made quickly with cheap materials. The problem is that many of the resources used to manufacture these items are being consumed faster than they can be replenished.

Christopher Harress

Christopher Harress |

Climate change reporter on the east and Gulf coasts.

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