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A Climate-Friendly Holiday Season: SD350’s Guide to Celebrating Sustainably

By Deanna Alderson, Climate Writer

Celebrating with family and friends is a wonderful way to share the joy of the holidays, but parties, presents and abundant feasts can have a hefty carbon impact. Here are a few ways to make your celebrations climate-friendly and ring in the holiday season sustainably.

1. Just say NO to food waste

Americans throw away over 200 million pounds of leftover turkey during the holidays! It’s a staggering amount of waste, and most of this extra food ends up in landfills, where it decomposes and produces methane. Nearly a quarter of all waste in American landfills is food waste.

Before you head to the store, make a plan to keep food waste to a minimum. Be realistic about how many portions your guests will eat and always shop with a list. You can use this handy calculator to see how much you’ll need for a perfectly sized feast. It’s a good idea to coordinate with guests ahead of time so you don’t end up with several similar dishes.
Make sure you have plenty of reusable containers on hand to keep leftovers fresh and send food scraps to the compost bin instead of the landfill. You can also encourage guests to bring their own containers so they can take leftovers home. If you need some inspiration on what to do with the extra food, check out this recipe guide for leftovers!

2. Ditch the disposables

It’s tempting to rely on single-use items during the holidays—disposable dishes and decorations certainly make cleanup easier. But those disposable items have a huge environmental impact, and Americans generate 1 million tons of extra waste each week during the period between November 24th and January 1st.

Use real dishes at your holiday table and consider buying a washable tablecloth and fabric napkins that can be reused at every holiday. You won’t be creating more waste, and your guests will be impressed with your fancy table!
For decorations, check out these eco-friendly DIY ideas that use upcycled materials from around the house and garden.

3. Power to the plants

Plant-based alternatives have a lower carbon footprint than meat: research suggests that leaving meat off your plate could reduce your meal’s carbon impact by half. Pumpkins and squash are sustainable when grown locally and stuffed acorn squash makes for a delicious and surprising main dish. Even if you aren’t ready for a completely vegetarian party, consider cooking a smaller portion of meat and make more veggie sides instead. 
This vegan holiday guide has some great plant-based swaps for your favorite recipes!

4. Shop locally and buy fresh ingredients

Consider buying produce and fresh ingredients from the farmer’s market or local CSA instead of pre-packaged foods from the supermarket or big box store. Processed foods are frequently wrapped in unsustainable plastic packaging and are often transported thousands of miles before they make it to your table. You can find a farmer’s market near you with this list from the Farm Bureau of San Diego County.

5. Reconsider Black Friday

We’re already inundated with ads for Black Friday deals, but it might be time to rethink this shopping extravaganza. Instead of buying piles of presents, consider shopping at local small businesses and opt for a few nicer items that will last longer. You could also consider gifting experiences, like concert tickets or a gift certificate to a local restaurant. A charitable donation in your loved one’s name is another wonderfully sustainable way to show you care.

6. Contribute to your local food bank

Sustainability isn’t just about lowering our carbon footprint; it’s also about ensuring everyone in the community has enough resources to thrive. We grow plenty of food, but that food doesn’t always end up with the people who need it most. Connect with your local food bank to learn how you can help make this a better holiday season for those in need. And if you’ve grown extra produce in your garden (or plan to next year!), see if you can contribute to a food pantry—they are usually happy to take fresh fruits and vegetables! This list of food banks in San Diego can help you get connected.