As the holidays approach, the work and family party planning begins. Unfortunately, amidst the festive celebrations comes a marked increase in waste production.
Each year, Canadians increase their waste by 45 per cent between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That is almost half a million tonnes of holiday waste going into the landfill each year. There are many simple ways to reduce your environmental impact while still making merry this season. Here are five tips for green holiday party planning:
1. Decorate with nature.
Keeping things simple can have great visual impact when it comes to holiday décor: evergreen boughs, cedar wreaths, pinecone centerpieces, and 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. Reduce waste in the kitchen.
Holiday parties usually require the preparation of food, and lots of it. One of the best ways to avoid unnecessary packaging is to shop at our local farmers’ markets. Many vendors encourage the use of reusable containers and bags and even offer a bulk price to incentivize this sustainable practice. Farmers’ markets are also a great place to source local and organic products, which have a smaller carbon footprint than products flown in from overseas.
It is also worth noting that most meat sold at farmers’ markets and local butcheries are packaged without the use of Styrofoam and plastic wrap. In the city of Peterborough, food packaging and take-out containers made from Styrofoam are not recyclable.
In some situations, it may not be possible to avoid waste entirely however, you can celebrate sustainably by managing waste effectively. Have your recycling area organized and labeled before your guests arrive. In Peterborough, recyclables should be sorted into two categories: Stream 1 and Stream 2. Stream 1 includes all containers such as glass bottles, pop cans and food and milk cartons. Stream 2 includes all paper products, cardboard and film plastics.
In addition, 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.
Another way to reduce food waste is to pack up your leftovers, freeze them for future lunches, or distribute to your guests. Recent food audits done in the County of Peterborough found that 15 per cent 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.
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. Give the gift of green
When exchanging gifts and handing out party favours, consider the environmental and social impact of your purchases. Shopping locally and purchasing gifts from artisans and crafters keeps your dollars circulating in the local economy, which is good for the whole community. Furthermore, locally made products, such as beeswax candles or soaps, often come with less packaging than commercial alternatives.
Another great way to negotiate the uncertainty of gift-giving is to give a non-tangible item, like an experience. You can also consider buying treats in bulk and packing them up in a cute reusable bag or baking holiday favourites and presenting them in a reusable tin. You may opt to skip the gifts this year and instead, ask your guests to donate to a local charity.
It is important to keep in mind that some traditional wrapping and foil wraps cannot be recycled, but there are great re-usable alternatives. A fabric bag or tote makes a great additional gift or you can use newspaper, brown post-paper or a decorated box that can be recycled after its use.
5. Consider energy saving habits
Holiday lights certainly make the season bright! Have you made the switch to LED holiday lights? Strings of LEDs may cost more up front, but the energy and cost savings are significant. LED lights last much longer, with some lasting up to 25,000 hours, which is equivalent to 12 holiday seasons. Chances are, strings of traditional bulbs won’t last nearly as long and they will certainly cost you more to operate.
You can also reduce your energy consumption by lowering the thermostat before your guests arrive. Many of us have been to an event where the room is packed with people, 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. By turning the heat down three to five degrees you can save energy and keep things comfortable without letting excess heat escape out the window.
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.
For more great gift ideas, decorating tips, reusable wraps, and green holiday resources, visit the GreenUP Store at 378 Aylmer St. N. in downtown Peterborough or visit greenup.on.ca.
Karen Halley is GreenUP’s communications and marketing specialist and Kristen LaRocque is GreenUP’s Store and Resource Centre co-ordinator. Learn more at greenup.on.ca