By Amanda Gillooly for Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP)
With the Climate Clock ticking, it’s never been more urgent for a societal paradigm shift that prioritizes sustainability. The climate crisis is real. As governmental agencies, communities and corporations around the world grapple with how to make systemic changes necessary for progress, we as individuals can make a difference, too.
Here are three ways you can enjoy the holidays in the most earth-friendly way possible and be a sustainability champion this year:
1. Rethink your decorations
Having an eco-friendly holiday season could be as simple as rethinking your holiday decorations. Consider this:
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if everyone replaced their traditional holiday string lights with LEDs, the energy cost-savings would be HUGE. We’re talking about a savings of 9.9 billion pounds of annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions from more than 940,000 vehicles.
Experts estimate half the wrapping paper produced each year in the United States ends up in landfills — that’s about $2.3 million pounds of the stuff. Using craft paper, the Friendly Faces section of The Homepage, or other recycled or upcycled materials could be a little thing that makes a big difference.
Artificial trees have a carbon footprint equivalent to around 88 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. Why? Because the main material is plastic — one of our leading pollution issues worldwide.
2. Forgo fast fashion
Each year more than 80 billion items of clothing are purchased, the majority of which will be thrown in the trash. It adds up. The World Resources Institute estimates that the so-called “fast fashion” industry annually releases about 1.2 billion tons of the potent greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
The best way to combat fashion-related waste and pollution is to change your buying habits. If clothing is on your holiday list, remember to:
Go natural. Skip the synthetic fibers that have a bigger environmental impact.
Shop quality over quantity. High-quality items just last longer (check seams and zippers to access quality).
Choose sustainable brands that champion environmentally friendly practices. Check out their websites before purchasing.
Another option? Buy second-hand first: Whether you’re looking to buy a gift or something new-to-you for a holiday party, thrift stores are your (and your wallet’s) friend.
Look up Dress for Success Pittsburgh, East End Community Thrift, Goodwill, Red, White & Blue Thrift Store, Salvation Army, or St. Vincent de Paul Society. To learn more about clothes recycling opportunities, look up Blue Jeans Turn Green Project, The Bra Recyclers, Council for Textile Recycling, Secondary Materials for Recycled Textiles, and Zero Waste Box.
3. Cut down on food waste
In the United States, more than $400 billion worth of food is piled into landfills each year and when it begins decaying, potent greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane are created. And it’s a big deal: Experts estimate that about one-sixth of our methane emissions stem from wasted food.
Things get even worse around the holidays. According to The Ecology Center, there is a whopping 25 percent increase in food waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.
Fortunately, there are myriad ways folks can stave off food waste. Experts suggest:
Make meal plans and shopping lists (and stick to them) to prevent purchasing more food than you need.
Love your leftovers. If you’ve sent your guests home with doggy bags and you still have holiday odds and ends in your fridge, consider using websites and apps like Yummly and SuperCook for creative recipes to use them up.
Consider getting into the composting game. Composting means collecting and storing organic material like plants and food scraps so they can decay and be added to soil to improve its quality. Google “DEP composting” for help getting started.
Your friends at the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) wish you a happy and safe holiday season!
Amanda Gillooly is communications manager for GASP. Email her your questions or comments at amanda @ gasp-pgh.org.