The holiday season is here, and the excitement in the air is certainly understandable. However, festivities can lead to wastefulness. So, work toward making the celebrations sustainable this year, to help the environment while you spend quality time with your friends and family. By Manas Sen Gupta
Christmas and New Year’s are two of the biggest celebrations in December. The joie de vivre can be felt everywhere as people look forward to spending quality time with their friends and family or making most of the season to travel. Exchanging gifts, lavish dinners and jet-setting trips are part of the activities centred around the holidays. But these things often become a burden on nature.
Here’s how you can turn the holiday season into a sustainable one
Care for the environment
Travelling irresponsibly can damage the environment. A recent instance was highlighted by a Member of Parliament from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India.
In a recent tweet, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, the elected representative from Ladakh, drew attention to the littering along the banks of the River Indus by visitors during a festival.
Welcome all the pilgrims to Ladakh who perform #SindhuPushkar according to their belief but strongly condemn the inhuman behavior of some of them who pollute the clean environment by dumping garbages in the lap of the Sindhu.
भक्तों के इस व्यवहार से सिन्धु माँ खुश होंगे क्या ? pic.twitter.com/sa0NmGiUsN
— Jamyang Tsering Namgyal (@jtnladakh) November 23, 2021
Similar incidents take place at many such places around the world. So, it’s important to organise more sustainable celebrations in the holiday season. Simple ways to do so are by lowering the energy pressure on the environment by picking the right holiday lights, opting for sustainable produce for dinners and luncheons and choosing an actual Christmas tree over fake ones.
Choose eco-friendly holiday dishes and drinks
An eco-friendly feast is one of the best ways to feel the festive vibes while caring about the environment. It begins with sourcing — buying fresh produce from local farmers who are engaged in sustainable farming.
Though it is best to consume plant-based dishes over meat (beef is the most carbon-intensive of all foods), local farmers can also grow sustainable meat. So, there is no dearth of produce that would be needed to make any of the wide range of delicious holiday dishes that fall under vegan, vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare during the season.
If more things are sourced locally, it will lessen the impact on the environment as a result of the reduction in carbon footprint because of decreased transportation of produce. It also helps smaller, local businesses flourish and keeps the money flowing within the community, which is especially important for the sustainable growth of everyone in times of crises.
Wines, liquors and other brews can also be obtained in the same way — from local wineries, vintners, distillers and brewers engaged in sustainable practices. And cutting down food wastage is perhaps one of the best ways to promote sustainability.
Pick a real Christmas tree
Fake Christmas trees are often made from plastic. They won’t degrade for hundreds of years, becoming a burden on the environment. However, an evergreen conifer, such as pine, spruce and fig, can be used as a Christmas tree. It can later be replanted or used as mulch or wood chips – especially if you’re a gardener.
One of the best ways of obtaining a tree is from a local Christmas tree seller. But before making a purchase, ensure that it was grown on a sustainable tree farm, using best practices. It should also be a pesticide-free tree, as a chemical-laced tree might not only be harmful to the tree and the environment but may also adversely affect people and pets in the household where it is planted or used for decoration.
Sustainable holiday season with LED
From Christmas markets to historic buildings and churches, all places are adorned with twinkling lights of varied colours, designs and sizes. Yes, conventional holiday lights do not consume much electricity, but when seen from a macro perspective, the impact of everyone decking up their homes and Christmas trees with lights can be better understood.
In a December 2020 report, Forbes underlined the massive impact of normal Christmas lights on the environment and people’s pockets. According to the report, American energy company Arcadia calculated that the use of lights in US homes where Christmas is celebrated pays an additional USD 12 on average for December. Besides, two million tonnes of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere while generating power for the lights.
Citing the Department of Energy, Forbes reports that using LED holiday lights in place of the conventional ones results in a 75 per cent reduction in power drawn by the lights; this means lesser carbon emissions and a reduced power bill. Another advantage is that LEDs are long-lasting and release less heat than conventional lights. More power can be saved by regulating the time when the lights are on.
Giving away eco-friendly gifts
Gifting is an integral part of any festivity. However, the wastage that follows is certainly a cause for concern. Finding a gift at the local market is a more sustainable option. Special attention should be paid to handcrafted gifts.
However, the best option is to make or curate a gift at home. It could be simple homemade ornaments, picture frames or skincare products such as soap bars, or hair oil. If the ideal sustainable gift cannot be found/sourced easily, then turn to places that pay attention to environmental concerns.
And a great way to prevent gifts from ending in the dustbin and create memories is to adopt some more alternative gifting ideas. These could be in the form of tickets to a popular nearby destination, gift cards, a subscription for a piano class, tickets to a football game or even a theatre show. Inviting a family over for dinner at home is also an option.
Love and support in times of COVID-19
The best way to spread the festive spirit and kindness during the holidays is by donating to the poor, homeless and anyone in need. According to the Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH), there are 100 million homeless in the world. Data from the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) as of October 2020 states “an estimated 1.6 billion people live in inadequate housing globally, of which 1 billion live in slums and informal settlements.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to push an additional 88 million to 115 million people into extreme poverty this year, with the total rising to as many as 150 million by 2021, depending on the severity of the economic contraction,” World Bank predicted in October 2020 in its report ‘Projected Poverty Impacts of COVID-19’.
Thus, many charitable and non-governmental organisations are trying to help the poor to get back on their feet. Donating to such groups is perhaps a ‘gift’ that has no parallels. However, it is best to do proper research on the organisations and learn about how they help, their previous work and the success of their work in this direction before donating.
Sustainable wrapping for a great festive season
Packaging is another major contributor to the holiday season waste. Cardboard boxes, cellophane wrapping paper, fancy envelopes, shiny ribbons, bubble wraps and even bottles mostly end up in landfills. So, saving gift wraps and bows received among other packaging materials and reusing them to pack gifts at home is the best way to reduce environmental impact.
The best gift wrapping materials are those made from 100 percent paper, which can be obtained from newspapers and magazines. Clean but old clothing items such as bandanas and scarves can also be used for packaging. And if fabrics are the gift, one of the best ideas is to ditch packaging altogether.
Reusing cardboard boxes in which online retailers deliver goods can also be reused. Sustainable inks and colours can give packages and gift wraps an artistic touch. In case the gift wraps and packages cannot be reused, it is best to hand them over to recyclers.
Post-COVID-19 travel has resumed in several countries and has been a lifesaver for hundreds of thousands whose livelihoods depend on it. The theme of this year’s World Tourism Day, celebrated annually on September 27 by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), was Tourism for Inclusive Growth.
Underlining its meaning, Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General, UNWTO, said, “By celebrating this day, we state our commitment that, as tourism grows, the benefits that come will be felt at every level of our broad and diverse sector, from the biggest airline to the smallest family business.”
Thankfully, the pandemic has resulted in more people becoming aware of sustainable travel. According to CNBC, a study conducted by American travel company Virtuoso found that 82 per cent of respondents were more eager to travel responsibly post-pandemic and 72 per cent agreed that travel should support local communities, protect the planet’s future and preserve cultural heritage.
But how to travel sustainably? There are many ways, including staying in eco-friendly accommodations and packing for the trip sensibly, including items that can be reused. A great way to ensure sustainable travel is to visit tourist destinations in the off-season. This not only helps reduce pressure on the ecosystems and infrastructure but also helps local businesses earn money in a time when income is low.
At the same time, the mode of travel is perhaps one of the most important things to consider. Even though air travel is the fastest mode of transport, several studies have revealed that it comes at the cost of the environment. The alternative is to take the train or car (if it’s electronic, even better!). However, international destinations are mostly connected by air. So, to reduce the harm done to the environment, take a single, long vacation instead of several short ones.
Sustainable travel — one that includes tourists caring about the destination as much as locals — is, therefore, one of the best ways for both tourism and the planet.
Hero and Featured image: S Migaj/@simonmigaj/Unsplash