The holidays can be associated with excess. Each year, Canadians increase their waste by 45 percent between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That is almost half a million tonnes of holiday waste going into the landfills each year. With a few simple actions, we can reduce our holiday footprint and enjoy the season more by knowing we are celebrating sustainably.
Whether it is for a small intimate gathering at your home or a large soiree with your workplace, there are many simple ways that your holiday event can be greener than ever. Here are 10 tips for planning your green holiday party:
1. Decorate with nature
Keeping things simple can have great visual impact when it comes to holiday décor: evergreen boughs, cedar wreaths, pinecone centerpieces, or birch bark and dogwood urns are all examples of beautiful décor that can be used to accent your event space, all winter long. The great news is that all of these decorations biodegrade at the end of the season.
Garlands made of popcorn, cinnamon sticks, fabric bows, gingerbread pieces, seasonal berries, and organic fruit and vegetables are fragrant and beautiful additions that can be tossed in the compost at the end of the holidays, or hung from outside trees to feed the birds.
2. Put local food on the menu
Over the holidays, family and friends frequently gather together with food and drink. Meal planning is one of the most fun parts of any holiday event. When preparing your menu, consider ingredients that are grown or raised close to home. How about a local, free-range turkey this year or a bottle of wine made right here in Ontario with grapes grown in Niagara, Prince Edward County, or Point Pelee?
If you are hiring a caterer, you can choose from many in the Peterborough-area who source their food from local farmers. The less distance your food has to travel from the farm to your plate, the smaller carbon footprint your party will have.
3. Cut out disposable cutlery and dishes
If you are entertaining a private dinner in your own home, you likely have enough plates and silverware to accommodate all of your guests, but when you’re planning for larger numbers, it might seem tempting to go with disposables. Unfortunately, paper plates and plastic cutlery really add up in the garbage. For larger events, you can easily avoid disposables by giving a party rental company a call. Cutlery, dishes, and linens can all be ordered ahead and then you won’t have to deal with the pile of dirty dishes afterwards – an added bonus!
4. Send out e-invitations or eco-friendly holiday cards
If you’re planning to have a lot of guests at your party, you can opt for email invitations or use a social media platform to spread the news to friends. This will cut down on paper and it’s free.
For more intimate dinners and events, it certainly may be more personable to send a paper invitation. Many cards are available printed on environmental paper that has been recycled. If you have extra time, you may want to hand make your invitations. If you like something unique, you can purchase ‘plantable’ cards that are made with compostable paper and wildflower seeds that can be planted later in the garden.
Also, if you receive holiday cards in the mail, you can preserve the sentiments by re-purposing them into gift tags, tree ornaments, and place setting cards.
5. Give the gift of green
When exchanging gifts and handing out party favours, think about how you can give the gift of green. Shopping local and purchasing gifts from artisans and crafters keeps your dollars circulating in the local economy, which is good for the whole community. You may opt to skip the gifts this year and instead, ask your guests to bring a non-perishable food item to donate.
Traditional wrapping paper and foil wraps cannot be recycled; think about how to incorporate re-usable giftwrap. A fabric bag or tote makes a great additional gift when used as wrapping, or you can use newspaper, brown post paper, and decorated boxes that can be recycled after their use.
6. Have your recycling area organized ahead of time
Whether you have five guests or twenty-five, sorting the recycling after a party is not fun. In Peterborough, have your two streams of recycling ready and labeled, prior to guests arriving. That way, all of the paper waste can go directly in one bin, while your containers such as glass bottles, pop cans, and food cartons can quickly go into a second – clean up will be a breeze.
7. Keep up the composting, even in the cold
Composting your food scraps can significantly reduce food waste in your garbage, especially if you’re preparing a meal and snacks for a large group. Rinds, peels, cores, and skins from veggies and fruit can be easily composted all winter long. The action in the composter will slow down but it will continue, even in the deepest cold of winter.
8. Make the switch to LED holiday lights
Holiday lights make any home, office, or workplace décor complete. Have you made the switch to LED holiday lights? Strings of LEDs may cost more up front, but the energy and cost saving is significant. LED lights last much longer, with some lasting up to 25,000 hours, which is equivalent to twelve holiday seasons. Chances are, strings of traditional bulbs won’t last nearly as long and they will surely cost you more to operate.
9. Turn down the heat
Most of us have been to an event where guests arrive and gather together, the stove is on, the candles are lit, and all of a sudden everyone is sweating buckets; the host then has to open a window to relieve guests from the discomfort.
Before guests arrive, turn the heat down three to five degrees. It will save energy and prevent you later on, from having to let all that heat escape out the window.
10. Pack up your leftovers
Recent food audits done in the County of Peterborough found that 15% of garbage from households was wasted food. Sustain Ontario reports that in Canada, almost 50% of total food production is wasted at the household level.
Have your reusable food containers ready for packing up leftovers after the party. Leftover meals are great for future lunches, especially when you pack them up in single-serving sizes that can be grabbed quickly from the freezer and heated up at the office. Or, send home some leftovers with your guests so that they can be quickly eaten up and not wasted.
Enjoy your feasting, fun, and festivities this holiday season but avoid getting swept up in the excess. This year, you can make your holiday party better for your guests and the planet.
Karen Halley is GreenUP’s communications and marketing specialist.