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Towards a Zero-Waste Holiday: Your Questions Answered

By Sarah E. Swiersz

Amidst all of the holiday buzz, you may be wondering how to make more sustainable choices, and particularly cut down on the immense amount of waste we’re always surprised we generate. Here are suggestions for making this year’s holiday season more sustainable and fun.

The Annual Debate: Natural vs. Artificial Christmas Trees

For some, holiday decorating may include a Christmas tree, which raises the infamous annual debate: Is a natural, live tree or an artificial tree better for the environment?

Well, it depends on the context – specifically the manufacturing process, the product lifespan, the distance traveled, and its disposition.  While we may have a tendency to equate “natural” with sustainable, there is evidence that artificial trees, despite being made of petrol-based plastics, can be sustainable if they are re-used at least 5 or more years. Artificial trees, some of which contain recycled plastics, may have a similar carbon footprint to live trees that travel long distances from farms to market, some in refrigerated carriers, and are fertilized during the 8-10 year growth period.

Conversely, live trees that are bought locally from growers with fair labor practices and recycled into mulch are the most sustainable choice.  Christmas trees grown for harvesting create wildlife habitats and absorb carbon dioxide during their growth.  Harvested trees are promptly replanted. In a market-oriented context, tree farms provide a viable economic use of open-land, preventing it from conversion into suburban development.  Moreover, family-owned X-mas tree farms support local jobs and return money into the local economy. Read more.

As there are many factors to weigh and compare, the most sustainable choice is not clear. So, if you prefer artificial, extend its longevity, and if you pick natural, keep it local and recycle or compost it when you’re done.

With the tree decision made, set the mood with thrifty and tasteful decorating and gifting.

Decorations fill your space with the holiday spirit, especially if quarantine has made staring at the same four walls a bit monotonous. Instead of buying new holiday decor, check out local thrift and second-hand stores for less expensive, eclectic, and fun holiday inspirations! Try thrifting at home by uncluttering junk drawers and shopping in your closet. Don’t want to shop?  Host a holiday décor swap outdoors on your driveway or doorstep.  Upcycling and repurposing glass vases, candleholders, dry florals, woven baskets, fabrics, and lace reduces unneeded consumption. Take inspiration from nature by decorating with pine cones, bundled twigs, stenciled paper, and textured recycled cardboard, rather than plastic.

Combining and repainting odds-and-ends in novel craft projects is a fun, COVD-safe activity when going out to the movies and attending gatherings is not recommended. You can also host a virtual craft party!

You can use upcycling creatively in gift-giving. Consider repurposing materials and items into gifts. Project REPAT and Memory Stitch, for example, convert old tee-shirts into blankets. Gift consumables, like locally-made fruit jams, honey, and bakery good, which support artisans, or plants from local nurseries that provide bee and butterfly habitat.  Consider gifting experiences instead of items. These could include trial dance lessons, cooking classes, membership to cultural organizations, park passes, and electronic subscriptions.  Not only does this minimize consumption of resources, it supports local employment, creates community, and enriches the mind. Always wanted to star in a movie, produce music or patronize the arts? Create a fun memory video from photo albums that are never opened, commission a musical composition, or write a poem.

 In the Spirt of the Season, give charitably.

COVID-19 may have canceled or moved your holiday office festivities, such as decorating and parties,  to a virtual format. If you’ve budgeted, but are not using the office holiday funds, consider donating the money to local food pantry or human service agency. The holidays are often a difficult time for households living in poverty, and the economic downturn from COVID-19  has heightened the major sustainability issues of food and housing insecurity across SWFL. Here is a list of local charities you can donate to:

  • Harry Chapin Food Bank at either 3940 Prospect Avenue Naples or 3760 Fowler St, Ft. Myers
  • St. Matthews’ House, Naples 2691 Airport Road
  • Midwest Food Bank 5601 Division Dr. Ft. Myers

This list is nowhere near exhaustive! There are numerous charities across SWFL that fight for many causes, so it can be a positive team activity to find one or a few your office is passionate about supporting.




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