10 Tips for Hosting a Wonderful and Waste-Free Holiday
By Clara Chaisson
For many, the holiday season is a time of plenty. But with all the feasting, the decorations and the gift swapping, it can be easy to go overboard. And for hosts, especially, there's a lot of pressure to make sure guests feel adequately stuffed and the house looks sufficiently bedecked.
While there's nothing wrong with splurging a little on special occasions, there are consequences to our habits of holiday excess. This Thanksgiving, for example, about 204 million pounds of turkey meat will go to waste. That's a staggering statistic, especially given the fact that one in every eight Americans struggles with hunger. Another alarming stat? Americans throw away 25 percent more garbage between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day than they do during other times of the year. That's four million additional tons.
Whether you're hosting Friendsgiving, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year's Eve or all of the above, follow these simple tips for a successful—and sustainable—holiday with your friends and loved ones.
1. Save the food! Trim your shopping list.
Up to 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. never gets eaten, which means the resources—like land, water and energy—used to produce it get squandered, too. Commit to wasting less during the holidays. When grocery shopping, take into account all those heavy communal meals that will leave less room for snacking, the weekday brunches, the plethora of cookies. Be mindful (and realistic) about how your diet may change as you spend more time out celebrating and socializing, and let your grocery shopping reflect that. And if you're hosting multiple meals, think about how you can make your purchases do double duty—potato latkes one night and a hash for breakfast later in the week, for example.
2. Save water by vegging out.
If you want to save water, you can have a big impact by serving your guests a vegetarian main course. It takes 1,850 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef and 519 gallons for a pound of chicken, but only 39 gallons to produce the same amount of veggies.
Cutting back on red meat specifically can have a significant impact on our climate. NRDC's Less Beef, Less Carbon report found that Americans shrank their diet-related carbon footprint by 10 percent over a decade, mostly by eating less beef.
3. Ace the leftovers.
Strive to become the Goldilocks of hosting by making just the right amount of food for your company. Using the interactive Guest-imator tool, part of NRDC's Save the Food initiative, you can plug in the number of guests you're expecting, what kind of eaters they are—"small," "average" or "big"—and whether you want leftovers. In response, you'll get a calculation telling you how much to prepare in order to fill everyone up and avoid trashing the excess.
4. Freeze your bounty.
The refrigerator's cooler cousin is a sustainable host's best friend. Whether you've got a plethora of ingredients that didn't make it into the soup pot or many cooked portions remaining, you can freeze it all for another time (but not indefinitely; quality does deteriorate over time). Pretty much anything can be frozen—fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables that have been pureed or blanched beforehand, and leftover ingredients like tomato paste, chicken broth, or coconut milk. (Use an ice cube tray to apportion those ingredients into just the right quantity for your next dish.) One way to stay on top of your freezer stash is to label leftovers with the date and keep that icebox organized, lest you lose things way in the back.
5. Have a Tupperware party.
Some leftovers are inevitable, and even desirable (pumpkin pie is part of a balanced breakfast, right?). But share the wealth so you don't have to stuff yourself with stuffing before it goes bad. Send guests home with a container or two filled with food for tomorrow's lunch or a midnight snack. There's no better party favor than food.
6. Forgo disposable dinnerware—and use the dishwasher.
Sure, paper plates and plastic cups make cleanup after a large party a breeze in the short term, but once all that waste heads to the landfill, it'll be dirtying the planet for centuries. Opt for real plates and cutlery. If you don't have enough sets to go around, see if you can borrow a few from a friend, or visit a secondhand store to stock up on spare flatware for guests. And throw it all in the dishwasher after the meal. As long as you run it only when it's full, the dishwasher also saves you water. It uses as little as three gallons per load, while hand-washing that same load can take up to 27 gallons.
7. Light the nights with LEDs.
We decorate for the holidays so lavishly that it's literally visible from space. Satellite measurements show that U.S. cities shine 20 percent to 50 percent brighter between Thanksgiving and New Year's. (Merry and bright, indeed.) So if strings of lights made from inefficient incandescent bulbs aren't already a distant holiday memory in your household, it may be time to start a new tradition. LEDs cost more up front, but as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes, you could be using the same string of lights 40 holiday seasons from now. Not only do they use significantly less energy, but LEDs are safer, too—the bulbs won't get hot against a flammable Christmas tree.
8. Choose a real tree.
Speaking of Christmas trees, a real tree, rather than an artificial one, is usually the greener way to go. But first, consider its source, just as you would for meat, dairy, and seafood. (If you absolutely must have a fake fir, choose one made without PVCs. And make sure you really like it—by some estimates, you'll need to hang on to it for more than 20 years for its environmental impact to dip below that of a real tree.) At the end of the season, see if your community schedules curbside recycling for Christmas trees or if there's a local mulching program.
Alternatively, you don't need to dispose of your holiday greenery at all if you skip the cut pine altogether and instead buy a plant or succulent you can decorate, which won't expire come January (and fits nicely inside apartments and smaller homes). If you live in a house with a suitable yard and the right climate conditions, you can also consider getting a potted tree that can be replanted and will last for years to come.
9. Deck the halls with homemade crafts.
As for other decorations, avoid buying more stuff if you can help it. Paper snowflakes, cranberry garlands, pinecones, handmade mkeka mats, and creative card displays all make for a festive atmosphere. And follow this sage advice from NRDC's senior resource specialist, Darby Hoover: "Instead of putting up a bunch of decorations that you're going to tear down or put in the garbage, save them."
10. Choose gifts that come in small (or recyclable) packages.
We all know the feeling of frantically searching for last-minute gifts for guests soon to be on your doorstep. If you're buying something just for the sake of buying something, consider going a different route. Can you make a donation to an organization your loved one cares about, gift them an online news subscription, or cosponsor a low-income family's holiday wish list? You'll be funding an important cause (or investing in a free press) and producing less waste at the same time.
When giving more traditional presents, opt for recyclable wrapping paper and cards. Most greeting cards are made of paper, but embellishments like glitter can put them on the naughty list. (For those who can't join you in person, e-cards are the greenest route to go.) When on the receiving end, hang on to gift bags and cookie tins and reuse them. And whether you're shopping online or around town, make a list of all your needs, then shop at as few stores or sites as possible. It'll help you reduce emissions and waste, since stocking up in one trip or bundling your e-buys cuts down on transportation costs and packaging material.
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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