Sustainability During the Holidays

According to an article named “Holiday Waste Prevention” from Stanford University, Americans throw away 25 million tons of garbage during the holidays each year. 

This number is shockingly high but easily avoidable. The holidays don’t have to be a burden to the environment. With a little effort and some imagination, researchers and activists say that we can reduce the environmental impact of the holiday season. From wrapping paper waste to unsustainably-products, most of the environmental impact of the holidays comes from gift giving. However, there are ways to work around those aspects. Many members of the Oyster River community strive to be as sustainable as possible during the holidays and there’s lots we can learn from them and possibly reduce our own environmental footprint. 

It’s crucial to recognize where the environmental strain is coming from during the holidays. Sustainability Club coordinator, Maggie Morrison, said, “There’s so much unnecessary waste during Christmas….lots of it is also single use. I wish there was a time lapse of the amount of carbon footprint coming from FedEx trucks and other delivery trucks.” She continues, “There’s so many easy changes people can make such just shopping locally and reducing that carbon footprint.”

Morrison explained that shopping locally is one of the easiest ways to be more sustainable during the holidays. Another Sustainability Club member, Cate Palmer (‘22), also mentioned this. “There’s lots of people right now buying gifts online which means lots of carbon in the air from delivery trucks.” Along with that, according to an article named “America’s addiction to absurdly fast shipping” from CNN, most common brands have to ship and transport items through airplanes, which also contribute significantly to greenhouse emissions and global warming. To combat this, buy from local craft or clothing stores. They are a great source for gifts you can get without severely raising your environmental footprint. 

Another advantage of shopping locally is the quality of products. Grace Webb (‘23) said, “It’s really nice knowing where your money is going… you know that whoever made your items put a lot of time and effort into their products, so it’s going to be high quality and will last a long time. Slow fashion is not only sustainable but also ethical.”

There are plenty of sustainable stores to choose from in Durham. For example, the Main Street Makery is a great place to buy handmade art and indie crafts. Another local business, Solsistar, provides trendy everyday clothing for people of all sizes. To read more about local businesses, check out “Why Shop Small During the Holidays” by Laura Slama. 

Although shopping locally is a great way to be sustainable while gifting, it’s difficult to limit yourself to just small stores. Luckily, there’s also plenty of big brands that strive to be sustainable. A well-known brand, Patagonia, prides themselves in being sustainable. According to their website, they create environmentally friendly clothing and aim to use their platform to do something about the climate crisis. Check out their website to read more into their environmental activism. 

Another brand, Alternative Apparel, is not only sustainable but ethical. According to an article named “Fair Trade and Ethical Clothing Brands” from The Good Trade, the factories of this brand operate in accordance with the Fair Labor Association Guidelines and make over 80% of their clothing with sustainable materials and processes. 

It’s easy to find other environmentally friendly brands as well. Palmer said, “Just look up some sustainable brands and try to buy from there.” A great source to find out whether your favorite brands are sustainable or not is through the website, Remake. This site helps inform people how environmentally safe and ethical certain brands are. 

Even if you purchase from sustainable companies, many people don’t realize the wrapping and packaging aspect of the holidays is what causes the most waste. According to the Oregon Environmental Council, most wrapping paper isn’t recyclable and the ones that are, are not recycled. Evy Ashburner (‘22) said, “Because it’s such a big tradition, we often forget that [wrapping paper] is so wasteful.” 

 Fortunately, avoiding wrapping paper is an easy habit to change. Sustainability club advisor, Jonathan Bromley explains that wrapping paper is easy for anyone to replace and it’s significant to make these small changes. 

Ashburner continued to explain some of the alternatives, “People have gotten really creative with how they wrap things…some of my favorites are using paper bags, newspaper, and even t-shirt fabric.”  

Like Ashburner, Webb also advocates for using paper bags and other household items. Webb said, “They aren’t only more sustainable than traditional wrapping paper, but it also can add a personal touch and make it seem like you put a lot of thought into the gift.” 

Ribbons and bow ties are another part of packaging that contribute to holiday waste. According to Sarah Blount in an article from “Neef USA,” “Each Christmas, Americans use enough ribbons to wrap around the whole earth.” As eye-catching and festive ribbons are, it’s important to reduce this number. One simple way could be reusing ribbons. According to “Holiday Waste Prevention” from Stanford University, if every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, that could save 38,000 miles worth of ribbon. Along with that, easy alternatives for ribbon could be using brown paper string and leaves. Brown paper string isn’t only recyclable but also easy to store and re-use in the future. Attaching a small flower or leaf to the string can also give the gift a nice minimalistic look. It’s simple, sustainable and giftable!

It’s important to acknowledge that changing your usual habits around the holidays can be difficult. Bromley explains, “In the predominant American culture, Christmas turns into a lot of consumption and consumerism…and even I am guilty of giving into it.” He continues, “However, we do need to be increasingly mindful, and I have been increasingly mindful of my consumption and trying to do things differently.” Like Bromley, let’s make small efforts to be sustainable. Shopping from small stores and avoiding wrapping paper is just the start of reducing your environmental footprint during the holidays. If you wanted to go the extra mile, you could try having vegan or vegetarian meals or making your own presents! 

Artwork by Kata Discoe (’22)