Ben Champion, Kansas State University director of sustainability, says it’s possible to celebrate and still be mindful of the environment.
“If you’re going to consume, then do so conscientiously,” Champion said. “Know what you are buying.”
Champion offers tips for an eco-friendly, yet still merry, holiday season:
- While many companies go green by reducing packaging, what a gift is made of matters just as much as what it comes in. Pay attention to recyclability and energy use and look for materials that didn’t cause environmental damage in their production. Look for trusted environmental certifications and check your local recycler to see what materials they do recycle.
- Paper products are the easiest to recycle, as long as they don’t have chemical coatings. Glossy paper decorations and wrapping paper are often not easily recycled because their coloring and designs are made of complicated chemicals. Some decorations or wrapping papers use soy inks or other natural dyes, making them more recyclable.
- Plain, corrugated cardboard is best for packaging presents because it’s easy to recycle. Plastic materials – especially No. 1 and No. 2 plastics – are the easiest plastics to recycle.
- Instead of physical gifts, consider gift certificates or donations in the name of the receiver. “The best way to save waste is to not buy presents that make waste,” Champion said. “You can always just buy something that is going to last a long time so that it won’t have to be thrown away.”
- Products that are fair-trade, organic or locally made can make one-of-a kind presents that may not require as much packaging for shipping.
- If you are mailing presents, use biodegradable packing peanuts or newspapers instead of non-recyclable packing materials.
- Disposable plates, cups and utensils can accumulate quickly at holiday parties. Use reusable or biodegradable, disposable dishware and utensils instead of foam or plastic disposables. While biodegradable dishes can’t be recycled when they have food particles or food stains, many biodegradable dishes can be composted along with food scraps.
- Buying local food products provides a more eco-friendly option because smaller, local farms can be less chemical intensive. “If it’s a special occasion, you may be willing to pay that extra amount,” Champion said. “You’ll have something that everyone can appreciate together. It’s often better quality, and I like the taste of organic and heritage foods better.”
Champion stressed that above all, the path to a green holiday is to focus more on the season and less on material goods.
“I would recommend spending our time and money not necessarily on buying stuff, but on enjoying each other’s company,” he said.