GreenHolidayNYC: Giving to the Planet During the Holiday Season

December 7, 2018

by Pamela Berns

x

With the holidays upon us, you can make the decision to be either naughty or nice when it comes to your carbon footprint. From treats to trees, from toys to travel, your choices make a difference in the health of the planet. How can New Yorkers stop dreaming of a white Christmas, and take actions toward a green one? Here are a few ideas for sustainable celebrating.

tree shoppingChoose an earth-friendly tree: According to Thomas Harman, founder of artificial Christmas tree maker Balsam Hill, “The minimal use necessary to make an artificial tree green is about seven years. Use it for three and a real tree is better.” But artificial trees are often made of materials that don’t readily decompose and may even contain toxic chemicals. Leaving a real tree in the ground is still best for the environment, so if you choose to go for a cut tree, make sure you get it from a reliable sustainable source. If you’re not sure what to make of the whole artificial vs cut tree controversy, consider a living tree. Think of it as buying a potted plant rather than cut flowers, only bigger. The tree comes with roots intact, and can be planted afterward. If you don’t have a yard of your own, gift it to someone who does. There are also plenty of community and school gardens in need of green. (Keep in mind that living trees sequester carbon; they actually store it and turn it into nutrition.)

Make mulch at a New York City Mulchfest: If you do decide to go for a cut tree, be aware that the tree’s useful life doesn’t end with the holiday season. So, instead of just dumping your tree on the sidewalk after New Year’s Day, take part in Mulchfest 2018 on January 6 and 7 from 10am-2pm. “Join the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, the New York City Department of Sanitation, and GreenNYC to recycle your Christmas trees into wood chips,” which will then be “used to nourish trees and plants on streets and gardens citywide.” Find a Mulchfest location near your home.

x

Adopt a tree:  If you celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, or are just someone who’s not into the whole tree-in-the-living room thing, you can still make trees part of your holiday commitment to a greener planet. Consider making a gift of a tree from the New York Restoration Project’s Sponsor a Tree project, which is part of the MillionTreesNYC green space initiative. Or make a donation to the Nature Conservancy to help with their forest management and reforestation programs.

x

Eco-friendly decorating: Ditch the lights and plastic decorations, and make your own. How about re-purposing old socks as figurines? Or use nature’s decorations, such as pine cones and berry branches, which can be composted along with food scraps when the holidays are over. Find a  GrowNYC composting station  near your home.

x

Make your own gifts: Photo albums, crafts, and scrapbooks can all be made from re-purposed and recycled items, and they have sentimental value. They can be passed around and shared, and even handed down to children and grandchildren later on. You can also find eco-friendly art supplies at Blick. Or give something edible – a great way to help a host overcome the challenges of preparing a holiday meal for 15 people in a New York city galley kitchen.

x

Gingerbread Passive House baked by GreenHomeNYC Volunteer Jordan Bonomo

Gingerbread Passive House baked by GreenHomeNYC Volunteer Jordan Bonomo

Buy services rather than products: How about a Groupon for a yoga class or music lesson? Or tickets to a show or concert? Offer to water plants when a friend goes on vacation. And, of course, no one would say “no, thank you” to free babysitting or pet care.

x

Give gifts that keep giving: Buy the family a membership to the New York Botanical Garden or the Bronx Zoo. Or make a donation to a favorite green charity or advocacy group in someone’s honor.  (Hint: GreenHomeNYC gets you both–and we’re local!) You can even name a park bench in Central Park in honor of your family.   For the little ones, you can adopt a wild animal from the World Wildlife Federation or the Sierra Club. Your  donation gets you a cute, plush stuffed animal and helps “protect our forests, mountains, and oceans–and all the endangered wildlife that call them home.”


donate-300x93

supply chain image

Shop mindfully: As time constrained New Yorkers, we’re all familiar with the old adage, “when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.” If you do decide to buy things, think carefully about whether the recipient is really going to use them. Plastic toys that make their way to the bottom of a toy chest may ultimately end up clogging a landfill. Be aware of what products are made of, and where and how they’re made. The Mindful Home blog has lots of listings of eco-friendly gifts. Reusable water bottles and refillable coffee mugs make excellent stocking stuffers.

x

Eliminate electronics:  One way to keep your holiday offerings out of landfills is to keep your purchasing power out of electronics stores. But if little Eddie insists on it, try for companies and stores that offer take-back programs, such as Best Buy’s take-back and trade-in program and Staples Easy on the Planet, and look for products that use batteries that can be recharged rather than disposed of.

x

Go vintage:  It’s the fashion rage, and actually puts gently used clothing on someone’s back rather than in the rag bin. Old clothes and jewelry look cool, and are often better made than new ones. Upcycled sweaters and quilts make wonderful winter warmers. You’ll find pick hits at scores of retro and consignment stores throughout the five boroughs, and at an increasing number of clothing swap businesses online and around the city. Thrift stores may require more picking through before picking out, but they have the added benefit of giving proceeds from sales to people in need. Check out CBS New York’s favorite Manhattan thrift shops.

x

Recycled Sari woven by Anna Upston www.maupstonyarn.com

Recycled Sari woven by Anna Upston

Wrap and ship responsibly: No need to buy fancy wrapping. Look around your house and you’ll find plenty of paper just crying out to be useful. Get the kids involved in decorating with organic, non-toxic crayons. If you don’t fancy yourself the creative type, go for seed-embedded recycled wrapping paper (a number of companies also offer plantable greeting cards). Finally, if you’re sending things long distance, ship ground.  (Air freight is right up there with cows on the emissions front.)

x

Eat green and local:  Forget the beef at your holiday table – cattle-raising produces a large percentage the planet’s greenhouse gases.  Instead, opt for locally and responsibly grown produce and poultry.  And be sure to check out your local Greenmarket for local, organic, and sustainably grown and made gifts such as fruit preserves, breads, pastries and wine. You can also find New York State and Long Island varietals, as well as locally distilled spirits at many neighborhood  liquor stores. Remember, fewer shipping miles equal lower emissions.

x

Tame your travel: While you probably can’t get around in a reindeer-generated sleigh, you can be smart about your travel options. Gather at the home that requires the fewest collective travel miles to bring everyone together. Choose public transit over cars, or even bike if weather permits. Many neighborhoods now have CitiBike racks.  If you must drive, fill the car, not just the tank (and fill it with people, rather than things, to reduce per-person fuel consumption). Going to Grandma’s up in Boston? Take the train, NOT the plane. (It’s also cheaper and gives you time to catch up on that novel you’ve been meaning to read all year.). If you absolutely must fly, choose direct flights rather than stopovers, as takeoffs and landings are big gas guzzlers.  And don’t forget, take the train (or bus) TO the plane.

http://store.citibikenyc.com/

While the air travel industry is at the top of the list of emitters worldwide, some airlines are better than others. According to a report on domestic airlines issued by the International Council on Clean Transporation in 2015, Alaska Airlines ranks number one on earth-friendlier flying. United is number five on the list, but they do offer carbon offset certificates that can be purchased with money or miles. After you calculate the carbon footprint of your travel using their carbon calculator, you can select from three carbon reduction projects to support through your donation. You can also buy offset certificates in the private marketplace, from companies such as Terrapass.  (Do keep in mind, though, that not all environmentalists love offsets, as they are concerned that it’s just a way for the airlines to pass the emissions reduction buck onto passengers rather than actively tackle strategies themselves.)

x

kids cooking

Share your knowledge: Let’s face it, unfortunately, not everyone thinks about these things as much as you do. So spread the word. Share this article. Let others know what you are doing to reduce your own impact, and offer to help them do the same. (These are incredible teachable moments for kids.) And don’t forget to raise a glass together in celebration of your contribution to future generations.  Perhaps that’s the best gift of all!

x

All of us at GreenHomeNYC wish you a joyous holiday season! Please help us celebrate another year of contributing to a sustainable New York City.

x

Make your tax deductible contribution before the New Year.

x

This article was originally posted on December 7, 2015 has been updated.

 

 

 

Be Sociable, Share!