personal finance

Secondhand gifts and DIY decor: seven ways to make your holidays a little greener

During the holidays, it can be challenging to reconcile indulgence and tradition with environmental responsibility. How do you avoid plastic when shopping for toys or get through holiday feasts without guiltily binning half a stale panettone? Seven eco-experts explain how they are planning to celebrate their holidays sustainably.

Try secondhand gifts for kids

My toddler is really into Thomas the Tank Engine right now and I’m planning on finding a second-hand train set to cut down on packaging waste. You’d be surprised how many great condition toys you can find on online community marketplaces or local parent groups. We just give them a good clean with a kitchen cleaner, and wooden toys are easy to touch up with a bit of hobby paint.

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Thinking about how much plastic packaging piles up around the holidays stresses me out – ditto how many toys are bought, only to go unused. Plastic toys aren’t recyclable, so buying them second hand also saves them from landfill and extends their life. There’s this idea that everything has to be brand new to be the best, but honestly, I find that if another kid already loved a toy, chances are good that mine will love it, too. – Jeff Wint, plastics reduction program manager at the Ocean Wise Conservation Institute

Consider nonphysical gifts for adults

I recently read that something like 5bn pounds of unwanted holiday gifts end up in landfills. That “perfect” gift you got someone could actually just be stuff they never wanted. I don’t buy physical gifts, but I’m also not a Scrooge when it comes to gift-giving. Instead, I like to give experiences – whether they’re memberships to online classes like MasterClass or services like Spotify. Whether they use it a little or a lot, I know there’s nothing going into the trash.

You can also be thoughtful and surprise people. If you know someone’s staying at a hotel for the holiday, call ahead and pay to upgrade their room. Or if you know they’re out to dinner with a friend, call the restaurant and pay the bill. This is much better than a gift card because they’re getting their fab experience in real time. – Danny Seo, environmental lifestyle expert and author of Do Just One Thing: 365 ideas for a better you, life, and planet.

Embrace the darkness …

Light pollution increases by 10% every year, affecting plants and animals all over the planet; night itself is endangered and all nocturnal animals with it. Instead of hanging Christmas lights, which contribute to light pollution, I’ll be embracing the dark and enjoying the natural string lights of the Milky Way. When the Geminid meteor shower peaks in mid-December, I will lie down in my outdoor hot tub, watching the meteors emerge from the depths of the universe. What could be more Christmassy than wishing upon a falling star? – Johan Eklöf, bat scientist and author of The Darkness Manifesto

… But spread some light

I’m giving everyone I know links to my favorite sources offering hopeful environmental news: the Solutions Journalism Network, BBC World Service’s People Fixing the World, The Beacon, Project Drawdown and OceanOptimism, to name a few.

I’ve discovered that receiving daily doses of inspiring sustainability trends provides a healthy way to approach eco-anxiety and counter the disempowering myth that it’s too late to tackle the climate justice crisis. Making real-world solutions contagious is a true gift. – Elin Kelsey, professor at the school of environmental studies at the University of Victoria and author of Hope Matters: Why changing the way we think is critical for solving the environmental crisis

Reduce food waste with savvy meal-planning

In the days leading up to a holiday feast, I let the contents of my refrigerator and freezer dictate my weeknight meals rather than buying more food for a specific recipe. Cooking dishes like stir fry or puréed soup with all the random vegetables I have on hand helps slash wasted food and make space for both the ingredients I’ll need for the feast and leftovers.

Meal planning also cuts waste – my guests can eat only so much. But when I do end up with more leftovers than I can eat within a few days, that food goes into the freezer to enjoy later. – Anne-Marie Bonneau, sustainable food writer and author of The Zero Waste Chef

DIY your decor

Lately it feels like the holidays are centered more around consumption and aesthetics than slowing down and making memories. I’m all about crafting over consumption this season; making my own decorations has a lighter impact on the planet, and my wallet, than buying new. Plus, something about painting an ornament I made from cornstarch and baking soda-based clay (yes, you can make clay out of those ingredients) gives me a cozy feeling; I think it’s good for my inner child. – Morgan Evelyn Cook, sustainability YouTuber

Getting a new bicycle for Christmas is a memory I cherish and a ritual that’s always delightful to see repeated for the younger generation of my own family. But every year can’t be a “new bike” year for the folks on my gift list, so this Christmas I’ll be gifting a donation to the World Bicycle Relief fund.

The donation will fund part of a Buffalo bike, a robustly designed model distributed across Africa, South America and Asia to give boys, girls and adults access to education, jobs and many freedoms often taken for granted. After all, bikes can help millions of people live happily and sustainably too. – Pete Dyson, behavioral scientist at the University of Bath Institute for Sustainability, and author of Transport For Humans: Are we nearly there yet?


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