With concern about climate change growing, this holiday season is a chance to try celebrating in more planet-friendly ways. Simple changes to the way we gift wrap, send cards, decorate and entertain can cut out a lot of waste. (And often save money in the process.)
"This is the year to approach the holidays with sustainability foremost in mind. It's a great way to feel good as you enter the giving season," says Liz Vaccariello, editor in chief of Real Simple.
Think carefully about what you're buying, says Melissa Ozawa, features and garden editor of Martha Stewart Living, "and focus on things that are meaningful and last."
That often means natural and recyclable materials.
"Now more than ever, it's good to ask yourself, 'Do I really want this? Will I use it? What's the impact on the planet?" Ozawa says.
Some activities to look at:
Unease over paper waste has many people turning to reusable bags and other options. Some companies that make wrapping paper have launched recyclable lines, or removed glitter, which is not recyclable, from their products.
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Vaccariello recommends stocking up on gift bags and ribbons that come your way and reusing them.
Or consider things like old maps, pages from magazines, and decorated Kraft paper as recyclable gift wrap, and embellishing them with fragrant sprigs of rosemary or evergreen, says Amy Panos, home editor at Better Homes & Gardens.
Both she and Ozawa like the Japanese tradition of furoshiki, in which gifts are elegantly wrapped in cloth. The pretty and sturdy wrapping cloths can be found in shops or online.
Or use colorful tea towels or scarves, making the wrapping cloth part of the gift itself. Better Homes features a guide to wrapping in cloth on its website.
"The tide has really turned, and it's fine to give and receive electronic cards. There are so many digital options now, and people get just as much joy out of it," says Vaccariello.
Those who stick with traditional cards might opt for ones printed on recyclable paper, and skip those featuring glitter or foil.
Cards from California-based PaperCulture.com, for example, are printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper. To offsets its carbon footprint, the company says, it works both locally and with the Arbor Day Foundation and Trees for the Future, pledging to plant a tree for every order.
"There's room, and demand, for saving the planet while having things that are inspirational in the way they're designed," says CEO Christopher Wu.
Again, think of reusing and recycling, says Vaccariello. Greenery left over from trimming a tree or clipped from the outdoors can be used in wreaths or garlands, for example.
Last year's holiday cards can be cut out and hung as decorations, says Panos.
If your holidays lights are old, switch them out for energy-saving LED ones, says Ozawa, at Martha Stewart Living. They use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs according to Energy Star, and will last years longer, she says.
Artificial or real? "The greener choice would be buying a real Christmas tree from a local farm," says Ozawa.
"The trees are grown for the purpose of being cut, and new ones are typically replanted every year, so the cycle continues," she says.
"Buying local means that it didn't use tons of fossil fuels to get to you. Plus many municipalities pick up trees after the holidays and chip them to use as mulch, so you're not adding to the landfill. And you can't beat the smell of a fresh-cut tree."
If you do buy an artificial tree, she says, plan to use it for many years.
"I would also consider the material of the artificial tree. When making your decision, ask: Is it made with recycled materials? Or can it be recycled?" Ozawa suggests.
When hosting a gathering, avoid single-use plastics and go with more eco-friendly options, like regular plates and cups. If single-use seem unavoidable, choose compostable versions made from things like bamboo or sugar cane, says Vaccariello.
"Just be sure to put out clearly labeled bins for compostables and recyclables," reminds Panos. "Otherwise it'll still end up in the trash."
Instead of offering guests a plastic goodie bag or doggie bag on their way out, save takeout containers and reuse them, she suggests.
"And at the end of the party, consider donating unopened bags or cans of food to a food pantry," Panos adds.
6 clever kitchen storage ideas to steal from restaurants
Place your prep in plastic containers
There are countless ways to use the clear, plastic containers you often see stacked in restaurants for your own prep. Tall ones are perfect for large quantities of stocks and ice creams, while shorter ones can hide pestos and dressings away. As you are well aware, dinner routines are an essential part of the week, and storing your food prep in easy-to-see containers should help. The best part? These lids are interchangeable, so you don’t have to worry about a stray topper.
Make space for pegboards or rails
There’s a reason why Julia Child used a custom pegboard in her famous kitchen. By having her trusted pots and pans within reach, it was easier to pick and choose which items she needed on the fly. Take her advice and install a pegboard for everything from pots and pans to ladles and spatulas.
No space for a pegboard? Opt for a single rail beneath upper cabinets to hang your favorite items from hooks. A bronze one will patina over time, making your vignette look as perfectly lived in as Child’s.
Create zones for flow
Restaurants get food out quickly because everyone on the line knows their place. And even though no one should expect a meal on the table in about 12 minutes where you live, they should be able to move around the room in a flash. All utensils, cups and plates should be gathered in the same area of your kitchen, and set at least a few feet away from the high-trafficked areas of a refrigerator, oven or even microwave. Store once-in-a-blue-moon appliances inside your pantry, or in a cupboard out of the way.
Use bench seating to maximize space
There are likely two reasons why banquettes are a classic part of the dining experience: They fit as many people into one space as possible, and it simply feels cozier than individual chairs. If your kitchen has a breakfast nook, consider the possibilities of creating a banquette of your own, or at least adding a bench. Either option provides the chance to add storage underneath the cushions as you also expand seating. A drawer would be perfect for linens, but open-air baskets would pull off the same trick.
Add shelving everywhere it fits
If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant or peeked in the back, then you’ve probably noticed that no space goes to waste. Shelving spans above and below countertops, and walk-ins are lined with tiered units. If you have a pantry, then take note of this design: Place the items you use most at eye level, the heaviest items beneath and the specialty items above. If you don’t have a pantry, add open shelving to a blank wall — for everyday items like plates and cups — or place a cart beside a small countertop. And while you’re at it, add extra shelving inside your cabinets to maximize the number of pieces you can fit inside.
Label everything you eat
You know that tasty tomato sauce you made a while ago? Its leftovers are now sitting in the fridge, and you can’t quite tell if that smell means it’s still good or not. This would never happen in a restaurant — and for good reason. All ingredients are promptly labeled, making it easy for anyone to see what’s still fresh and what’s past its prime. Get in the habit of writing the contents of your leftovers on masking tape with a permanent marker and include the date. It’s a fast and cheap way to keep your fridge clean.