The holiday season is supposed to be about giving and sharing, but often it is actually about throwing away. The U.S. generates 25 percent more garbage between Thanksgiving and New Year's than it does during the rest of the year. That's around one million extra tons per week, according to National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) figures reported by The Associated Press.
Waste is a big part of the major environmental crises currently harming life on Earth. Around 8 million metric tons of plastic pollution end up in the oceans each year, where they kill 100,000 marine animals and around one million seabirds a year, according to Ocean Crusaders. And Project Drawdown found that reducing food waste was the third most effective solution for reducing the amount of planet-warming greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and fighting the climate crisis.
So how can you celebrate without ending up on Earth's naughty list? Here are three tips for a holiday season that honors nature's gifts.
1. Make Your Own Tree
There's an ongoing debate as to whether it is more ecologically friendly to buy a natural tree every year or reuse a plastic one. But neither option is climate neutral, according to Omni's Christmas Tree Footprint Calculator.
This tool helps you calculate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with a variety of Christmas tree options and disposal methods so you can make the greenest choice you can. A natural tree thrown in a landfill burns 21.02 kilograms of carbon dioxide, a landfilled plastic tree burns 35.16 kilograms and a replanted potted tree burns only 1.64 kilograms. But only one option emits zero carbon: making a tree of your own from items already in your home.
In addition to calculating carbon footprints, the tool also gives you instructions for making trees from books, cans, floating baubles, cardboard or succulents. Compared to a plastic tree, a book tree can save the amount of carbon dioxide generated by 84 miles of driving.
But if you really crave that pine-needle smell, you can reduce the footprint of a medium-sized live tree down to 5.724 kilograms of carbon dioxide by donating it to the elephants at your local zoo.
2. Give Up on Gifts
More and more people are turning away from the tradition of exchanging store-bought presents. This is especially the case for the younger generation, Waste and Resource Action Programme campaigner Richard Clapham told The Independent in November.
"They're increasingly looking for experiences rather than 'stuff.' I think this is partly driven by their concern for the planet but also because they already have so much stuff," he said.
If you opt not to buy things, there are still many creative ways to tell loved-ones you care. The Peninsula Sanitary Service and the Stanford Recycling Center have several alternative gift suggestions including trips to museums or parks, certificates to help with chores around the house or handmade presents. You can also make a donation in your own or someone else's name.
Jane Ruessman, a 58-year-old translator from the UK, told The Independent that she banned presents from her family gathering. Instead, everyone gets a handmade paper hat.
"Getting together at Christmas was initially a bit of a nightmare as we all felt that we should bring along a present for all those who were coming," she said. "It was nice but pretty stressful and we would end up spending a lot of money and going home with an awful lot of stuff that we generally didn't need at all and didn't know what to do with."
And that's the last thing the planet needs.
3. Make Your Feast Last
Americans toss an extra five million pounds of food on average between Thanksgiving and New Year's, MarketWatch reported. But it doesn't have to be that way.
There are plenty of delicious strategies for making your holiday meal last as long as possible. If you served meat, you can use it for soups or stews, or toss it in dishes like lasagna. Leftover vegetables are great in frittatas or omelettes. It's also important to freeze leftovers before they go bad. The Hartford Climate Stewardship Initiative recommends keeping enough in your fridge for three days of leftovers and freezing the rest immediately.
You can also give your food away. Ask your guests to come with their own to-go containers and send them away with the next day's lunch. Unused canned or dry food can be donated to a food drive.
It's also a good idea to reflect after this year's meals, assess how much you actually ate, and plan to make less next year.
"If everyone had their fill, and you still had leftovers, maybe during the next round of holiday shopping you think about the excess you had and say what if you purchased the same amount and only prepared half of it?" Lisa Sposato, director of food sourcing at New York charity City Harvest, told MarketWatch.
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A "trash tsunami" has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.
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By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
In another win for climate campaigners, leaders of 12 major cities around the world — collectively home to about 36 million people — committed Tuesday to divesting from fossil fuel companies and investing in a green, just recovery from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
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