When I was growing up, every December my family would head out to the East Coast to spend the holidays with our extended family. It was a picturesque scene: my Grandpa lived in an old wooden house on a lake, with enough extra bedrooms to host my family and all my cousins.
On Christmas Day, even more family members would arrive, and fill the house with roughly 30 people who were all opening packages, eating and drinking merrily. There were toys, pine needles, boxes and decorations everywhere. I cherish these memories.
Unfortunately, I can't reflect on holidays past without considering all the excessive consumption. Although holidays are an opportunity to celebrate with loved ones, the amount of waste produced and energy used is nothing to feel festive about. According to The Center for a New American Dream, Americans generate an average of 25 percent more waste, or one million extra tons per week, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The United States accounts for only five percent of the world's population, but creates half of the globe's solid waste.
Looking back on the heaps of wrapping paper, bags, boxes and packaging that fill our trash bins to the brim annually, this statistic doesn't come as much of a surprise. Yet enjoying each others' company and celebrating the holidays doesn't have to entail rapid consumption of resources; in fact, you might notice the holidays are more enjoyable when we celebrate sustainably.
Last year my family decided to get a live tree instead of a cut Christmas tree in order to start a greener holiday tradition. We brought home a Dwarf Alberta Spruce we called Albert, which would soon be planted in our backyard and thrive for years to come. This helped to reframe the holidays in our minds: instead of looking at Christmas as a disposable and wasteful occasion, we considered its long-term impacts and realized the importance of keeping the holidays green.
There are several simple ways to combat holiday consumption. Instead of using wrapping paper, use reusable materials to decorate gifts: Old newspapers and fabrics make excellent gift wrap. Why not turn the holidays into an opportunity to benefit humans around the world? Through Heifer International, you can donate an animal, fund a project, support sustainable farming, or provide basic needs for families. Instead of giving loved ones gifts they don't need, a gift like this can make a global impact and support efforts to end hunger and poverty. A flock of chicks is only $20! You can also give a gift that supports individuals in need through Kiva microloans. Lending as little as $25 helps support the self-sufficiency of individuals around the world. Start sustainable traditions this holiday season and give green. We can turn the most consumptive time of year into an opportunity to work towards universal social and environmental justice... and that's something worth celebrating.
Drew Searchinger works at CU's Environmental Center.