GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As holiday preparations begin, University of Florida experts say there are plenty of ways for people to incorporate environmental considerations into their plans.
There are pros and cons to both sides of the real-versus-artificial tree debate, says Ramona Madhosingh-Hector, a UF/IFAS Extension regional specialized agent for urban sustainability based in Pinellas County.
“An artificial tree allows you to use it season after season, but you have to have storage space for it,” she said. “It all comes down to the experience that a person is looking for.”
But real trees involve more of a cost factor, Madhosingh-Hector says, including time considerations for decorations (some artificial trees are pre-lit) and maintenance.
“You do have the opportunity to recycle them, though, because most cities turn them back into mulch, contributing to things like soil fertility or community gardens,” she said.
The type of lights chosen can also be a long-term consideration.
“Choose Energy Star-rated, energy-efficient lighting,” said Jenny Rodriguez, a UF/IFAS Extension Orange County family and consumer sciences agent. “LED outdoor holiday lights use one-fiftieth the electricity of conventional lights and can last 20 to 30 years.”
She adds that decorations that don’t use electricity provide another option: “Try edible decorations, such as popcorn strings, or reusable ones like colorful ornaments or ribbons.”
Both Madhosingh-Hector and Rodriguez suggest meal planning as a way to cut down on food waste and contribute to the local economy.
“I encourage people to check the pantry first, and then buy local ingredients where you can,” Madhosingh-Hector said. “If you’re serving 20 people, and you’re not going to eat leftovers right away, make sure you package the food, label and freeze it to avoid contributing to more food waste.”
Rodriguez adds: “Planning ahead for meals and parties can also help you avoid buying more than you need.”
Dishware and utensils bring another opportunity to minimize your footprint.
“Use reusable plates and glasses to cut down on unnecessary waste,” Rodriguez suggests.
But Madhosingh-Hector recognizes that certain gatherings may be too large to accommodate using “real” dishware and utensils.
“If you have a large crowd and don’t want to run several loads in the dishwasher, paper products are a good in-between option,” she said. “Avoid plastic or Styrofoam. Balance the cost of that product with the cost of washing the dishes – there’s an element of time and cost in everything.”
Madhosingh-Hector says planning is also useful for buying gifts.
“By planning ahead, you can monitor how many stops you’ll be making, limiting your overall environmental footprint while you’re doing your holiday shopping,” she explained. “Many people shop online, but if you’re buying multiple gifts from the same vendor, try to avoid multiple shipments. That can help reduce overall packaging, but also the delivery truck can minimize trips to the same address.”
She says gifts don’t always have to involve store purchases or shipments, though.
“We’re so focused on the notion of ‘giving’ something – but what about the idea of gifting an experience?” Madhosingh-Hector suggests. “It’s really easy to spend time with someone and give them that memory-making experience. The money you would spend on a gift, you can easily treat someone to dinner and make a memory with them.”
Rodriguez says shopping locally is also an environmentally friendly gift decision.
“Shopping local supports area shops, makers, and artisans while reducing shipping costs and impacts,” she noted.
When it comes to presenting a purchased gift to a loved one, Rodriguez suggests thinking outside the box.
“Instead of gift wrap, consider using bows or useful baskets,” she said. “You can also reuse wrapping paper or newspaper to wrap gifts.”
Above all, Madhosingh-Hector says, consider what brings joy to you and your recipients.
“Remember to always balance needs and wants when purchasing gifts for family and friends,” she said. “People shouldn’t feel guilty about consuming, but there’s a certain amount of responsibility to impart when purchasing a consumer good. If we’re giving something that creates an environmental impact, like a new device, you should consider ways to mitigate that impact, such as recycling an old device.”
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS website at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.
(Featured photo: UF/IFAS file)