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Sustainable holiday ideas

Posted 3:38 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022

UWL students made sustainable gifts by reusing glass jars during an It Make$ Cents!, UW-La Crosse financial literacy program event in 2018.

Tips to make your celebrations better for the environment 

The holiday season brings hope, joy, peace — and quite a bit of trash. 

The amount of waste created by the average household during the holiday season — from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day — increases by about 25 %, according to The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  

The good news is your decisions on how to celebrate this season can make a big difference for the Earth. Andrew Ericson, UW-La Crosse sustainability program manager, shares tips on how to travel, eat and give gifts with sustainability in mind.  

1: Travel sustainably 

While many people plan to travel over the holidays, consider how you can go the distance with the lowest carbon footprint.  

Generally, you should always look for public transportation first, like a bus or a train. La Crosse is served by a variety of transit options like Jefferson Lines and Amtrak. If that’s not available, consider carpooling with others going to a similar location. 

2. Eating eco-consciously 

The food you eat can be one of the easiest and most impactful ways to reduce your carbon footprint. There is “embedded carbon” affiliated with the production, processing and transportation of the foods we eat. Some food groups and items have higher embedded carbon than others. 

Generally, animal products have a greater carbon footprint than other food types, but even that has a great range, with beef having the highest carbon footprint per kg. of food product. So, consider making a switch from beef to poultry/pork or even try some plant-based meals. 

Though this has less of an impact, choosing a local ingredient over a similar non-local ingredient can also reduce carbon. 

3. Sustainable holiday gifts 

  • Get gifts that promote sustainability. Or, less gracefully, trick the gift receiver into being greener. Check out a “Zero Waste Store” to get some ideas. Most moderate size cities have great options for gifting green. Larson’s General in downtown La Crosse is a great option.
  • Buy from green companies. From company to company there can be a lot of variation in sustainability practices. Buy from ones that excel. And be conscious of greenwashing.
  • Purchase durable goods. Even though you might save some money buying from another brand, purchasing from a brand that is known to be durable can mean you’ll get more use out of it and produce less waste in the long run.
  • Gift Experiences. A shared experience can be way more meaningful than an item. Some examples include: concert tickets, coupons for favors, a day trip, cooking classes or a subscription. 
  • Buy it second hand. You can save some money too! Check thrifts shops, antique stores, search “Buy Nothing (name of city)” on Facebook to see if your city is part of this nationwide gifting project to help people save money and build community. People post items they hope to give away as well as find.
  • Be careful with clothing gifts. It is difficult to know the right size and style to purchase for someone else. Consider going with the gift receiver before you buy it, to make sure they want it.
  • Find alternatives to wrapping. You may not even need to wrap your gift, but if you really want to, try using recycled paper, newspaper or even tea towel gift wrapping. 

As you prepare for the festivities this season remember all the ways you can also celebrate the Earth.  

Stepping up sustainability efforts

Andrew Ericson is UWL's sustainability coordinator.

Since 2005, UW-La Crosse has reduced heating and electricity emissions by about 30% — despite growing in building space by about 40%. Read the full story