Many of us pay attention to our environmental footprint, only to see careful consumer practices fly out the window as the pressure of the holiday season mounts. In my view, December is the most important month of the year to be as green as possible.
Before spending lots of money buying gifts online, think about what we need to lead a meaningful life. The United States has 4 percent of the world’s population, consumes a 30 percent share of the world’s consumption of natural resources and generates 40 percent of the world’s waste.
For people looking to change this trend, especially in light of the recent government report on climate change, here are some ways to help us buy less stuff — especially plastics, which pose serious environmental problems — and have a meaningful holiday season.
Give experiences. Luckily, reducing overconsumption does not mean stinting on gifts. Parents can give their children one-on-one time, especially new outdoor and cultural experiences. Children love to cook, make art and learn a craft by your side. Take your parents to a concert. Take a friend on a hike, followed by a hearty meal. The gift of time (with no screens) is one of the greatest we can offer.
Instead of a fruit-of-the-month club or a wine-of-the-month club, design an outing-of-the-month club for those closest to you. Kick it off with your own ideas for January and February, and enjoy planning the rest of the year with a friend or family member.
Donate locally. Make a charitable donation to a nonprofit organization that the gift recipient (not you) supports. Rather than well-known organizations, research local or regional organizations that will make the best use of your generous contribution.
Support the arts. These can be enjoyed year-round. If you don’t know how to find area artists, contact your local council on the arts, nearby gallery or art museum. Also, whether it’s punk rock or chamber music, the local music scene is worth nurturing by buying concert tickets as gifts. Local newspapers will have information on upcoming performances.
Shop smart. When you’re shopping, take your own bags. Your reusable grocery bags can be used in other stores. (If you’ll be out for a few hours, take your own reusable drinking cup for that pick-me-up.)
Wrap smart. Most wrapping paper cannot be recycled, so save and reuse it — I have wrapping paper that I have used for years — or wrap gifts in magazines, newsprint or old maps. Or, skip wrapping paper and adorn your presents with bows and ribbons. You also can use (and reuse) fabric, especially for friends who sew or quilt and can use it later.
This is a joyful season. Let’s take these easy steps to create new, environmentally sound traditions to ensure that future generations can revel in the same joy we have.
Judith Enck, a former regional administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, is senior fellow and visiting faculty at Bennington College and founder of The Beyond Plastics Project, which works to reduce pollution.