It’s the time of year for gathering with friends and family, sharing stories over simmering pots of spiced cider, and embracing our best hygge selves with cozy sweaters and thoughtful gifts. It’s also the time of the year for flash sales and rush shipping and BOGO and last minute gift gathering maddness. For elaborate meals and traffic-laden holiday travel and excess in the name of celebration, or perhaps, obligation. It can all get a bit overwhelming, and in the midst of the festive chaos it can also be a tricky time to hold on to even our most well established environmentally minded habits. So, in the spirit of both the season and our commitment to making more sustainable choices each day, here are some ways we can still enjoy all the festivities and generosity of the holidays while being mindful to tread a little more lightly on the earth.
Get your ugly sweater or party dress at a second hand store.
The fast fashion industry is one of the most environmentally damaging industries out there. Because items are fad-driven and often poorly made, they typically end up in the landfill sooner as well, and require replacing with yet another item. Textiles as a whole are also staggeringly water intensive to produce – but the market for cheap, of-the-moment styles means even the most well-intentioned consumers have a hard time not getting caught up. While the fad of wearing ugly Christmas sweaters to holiday parties may have started with digging out Great Aunt Mildred’s outdated but earnest holiday hand-knits and wearing them with a dose of charming irony, you can now find mass-produced, cheaply made, purposefully ugly sweaters in any big box store starting around Halloween. They are the single-use plastic bag of the holiday season. Thrifting a sweater means you can still participate in the holiday spirit while not contributing to further environmental degradation, saving water, and keeping clothing out of a landfill. Want a new party dress instead? Same solution.
There are a plethora great second hand and vintage shops around San Diego that would love to supply you with your holiday fineries (or uglies). By supporting them, you are also keeping your dollars in your community and providing local families a little extra support. Here are just a few:
Plan your holiday meals a little lower on the food chain.
It’s a good rule of thumb that foods lower on the food chain generally take less water to produce. Whereas a single pound of beef takes nearly 1,800 gallons of water to produce and a pound of chicken takes over 500 gallons, potatoes take just 34 gallons per pound and apples take 83 gallons per pound. It’s also worth noting that whole foods typically have a lower water footprint than processed foods, since the equipment, manufacturing, and packaging processes associated with processed foods are water-intensive. So while the holiday ham may be a tradition you aren’t willing to forego, focusing on plant-forward dishes for the sides, as well as trying to shop for only what you need so you don’t end up with too much food waste, will help reduce the impact of your meals.
Gift giving is a great opportunity to act mindfully as well.
Giving experiences like a massage or cooking class instead of an object can be both thoughtful and less resource intensive. Shopping at local vintage and antique shops, or used bookstores (a staff favorite is Verbatim Books in North Park), is another way to find a gift that already exists in the world an didn’t have to be newly manufactured. Love that crisp new book smell but still want to avoid giving money to the big guys or having something rush shipped? Try an independent bookstore like Book Catapult or Mysterious Galaxies. Now, time for an unpopular opinion: Don’t give a gift just for the sake of the obligation. When you buy someone something they don’t really want or need, that item is more likely to get tossed. It might take a little mystery out of the exchange, but asking someone what they’d love to receive can help insure your gift is used and appreciated and isn’t just destined for the landfill. Still stumped? A gift membership to their favorite environmental non-profit organization might be just the thing. (Wink wink.)