The Millennial's Guide to a Low Waste Holiday Season, Part I

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I grew up in a town called Santa Claus.  No, really.  We’re home to the only post office in the world with Santa’s name on it and are therefore inundated with letters to Santa every December.  The majority of the town is now overtaken by an amusement park called Holiday World.  I lived in a neighborhood called Holiday Village, one of the two main subdivisions in the town, the other being Christmas Lake Village (all the street names are related to, you guessed it, Christmas).  A friend from high school lives on Sleigh Bell Dr; I can’t make this stuff up.

Needless to say, I’m used to total madness, consumer and otherwise, around the Christmas season.  I’m fortunate to have a family that avoided fake Christmas trees and Clark Griswold-style light shows; we always chose a real tree from a local tree farm and used the trimmings for our garland.  Now that I’ve moved away and have my own place, I’m torn between honoring my festive history and completely Grinching out and avoiding decorations entirely.  Alas, I can’t deny the pure joy that runs through me when I think of the holiday season and thus have started a journey to a lower impact Christmas that honors my millennial paycheck and ideals.  

THE TREE

Step one for me is always the tree; the Arc de Triomphe around which the rest of my holiday adornment will be built.  Between super local farms in Tennessee and the wild Fraser firs in North Carolina, there seems to be no shortage of fresh cut, sustainable trees where I live.  Artificial Christmas trees may be reusable, but the sustainability stops there.  Most artificial trees are petroleum-based products made in factories overseas by people getting paid a pittance to squat over machinery all day.  Considering the resulting carbon emissions to manufacture and transport arti1ficial trees, as well as the oppressive conditions for most overseas factory workers, to me, it always makes sense to get a live tree, even if you live in an area that isn't suitable to grow popular Christmas tree varieties.  But, for those with allergies or other reservations, here is a guide to some less toxic fake trees from The Soft LandingIKEA has a few options that are PVC free, but note that they're only available in stores.  

 Fontana Lake, NC

Fontana Lake, NC

I’m getting my tree from a friend's property near Fontana Dam.  One crucial accoutrement to a fresh tree is a tree stand that can hold water to keep your baby alive all month and not dropping all its needles before December 25th.  I found one at a local secondhand store (Shoutout to Ladies of Charity) for $1.00, and found many many more at Goodwill, so definitely don’t go buying that thing new.  Buying things secondhand is a double-whammy for sustainability: keeping one thing out of the waste stream while also avoiding purchasing a new plastic item that contributes to a wasteful, consumerist cycle.  

Now, decorating your tree is entirely up to you and your tastes, do ya thang.  But, do ya thang responsibly.  Plastic tinsel, trendy ornaments, and poorly made lights are all things to avoid if you’re trying to reduce your impact.  Those shitty lights are made to last a season or two before they start to fizzle out, and then people can either take the time to find the burnt out bulb, or throw them away.  Now, you can also recycle those broken lights at Home Depot or possibly your local recycling center, so if you get your lights out this year and they’re pitifully pockmarked, please don’t toss them in the trash!  This article from The Spruce goes into even more detail about where and how to recycle your Christmas lights.  

 UPDATE: It happened.  Took approximately 4 minutes.  RIP.

UPDATE: It happened.  Took approximately 4 minutes.  RIP.

When it comes to ornaments, I again turned to secondhand stores, since it seems everyone tends to get tired of their tree decor at some point.  I opted for simple glass ornaments, since I know those will be recyclable if (let’s be honest, when) I break them.  To accompany my glass bulbs I’m also planning to make some salt dough ornaments, because I’m actually 8 years old and enjoy making an enormous mess in the kitchen.  I’ll add some photos of that process when I’m done, since I’m going to make the dopest salt dough ornaments you’ve ever seen, along with some other neat, zero-waste tree embellishments.  

~Sophie