Thoughtful and intentional: Last minute tips for Southern Utahns ‘dreaming of a green Christmas’

ST. GEORGE — Southern Utah is in the midst of the holiday season – Christmas is just days away, the New Year is right around the corner and Hanukkah began Sunday. Is it too late to have an eco-friendly holiday?

A man opening a present wrapped with ad paper, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 18, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, St. George News

Not according to Carmen Valdez, a policy associate with the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, or HEAL Utah, a nonprofit that “promotes renewable energy and clean air,” according to its website.

With many Southern Utahns partaking in holiday travel and shopping, Valdez told St. George News that they should consider “chaining (their) adventures.”

“So that means that when you need to go grocery shopping, hit up the bank, go see Mom and Dad – try to do those things in one run instead of going to one, going back home and then heading to the others,” she said.

Each time a person runs an errand, they need to start and warm up their vehicle, Valdez said. When they run one per day, they would need to start their car cold, which will produce more emissions.

But if they chain their errands, their vehicle is already warmed up in-between tasks and will produce fewer emissions, and they reduce their time spent driving, Valdez said.

Additionally, Valdez suggested carpooling and using public transit whenever possible.

Residents and visitors of Cedar City can take advantage of Cedar Area Transportation, known as CATS, which offers fixed-route buses and a dial-a-ride service for people with disabilities and those over 65 years old who have had their applications approved. Those in St. George can catch a SunTran bus. However, these services do not run on major holidays.

Stock image, St. George News

Earthie Crunchie, a Salt Lake City-based composting company, posted sustainable travel tips on Instagram.

“Sustainable travel is all about planning and making mindful decisions,” the post said. “Whether you’re heading home to visit family and friends, or you’ve got a full-scale holiday adventure in the works, there’s always room to make your upcoming trips and travels more eco-friendly.”

The organization suggests travelers avoid using disposable items during their trips by packing reusable water bottles, utensils, straws, shopping bags and other similar items.

People traveling via airplane, people can seek out aircraft with “a good track record for environmental sustainability” and those that “have implemented fuel-efficient technologies and are actively working to reduce their carbon emissions,” Earthie Crunchie said.

If a destination is reachable by bus, train or boat, the post suggests using one of these options instead.

Individuals should also turn off lights in their homes and unplug electronics before leaving, the post states.

Additionally, Southern Utahns could stay home for the holidays or limit their travels, Valdez said, adding that they can find other ways to spend time with family, such as walking or hiking together, and to enjoy traditions, such as walking through a neighborhood to view Christmas lights instead of going for a drive.

Environmentally friendly décor

A close-up of a fake Christmas tree, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 18, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, St. George News

“I both love and hate plastic Christmas trees,” Valdez said. “Because then they’re plastic, but too, if you take care of your plastic Christmas trees, they can be long-lasting.

“I think we all are thinking about a Christmas tree we know of in our family that’s probably older than us.”

Reusing holiday decorations is “very, very important” for reducing trash waste, she said. And while styles change and people get more elaborate, individuals should be intentional when purchasing new additions.

If a household should choose a live tree, Valdez said they should look into other uses for them after the holidays are done, such as creating a winter-themed garland or adding them to a compost pile. Additionally, potted pine trees can be kept alive, planted and cut down later to be used as a Christmas tree again.

Local farmers and ranchers might also take in leftover trees for compost, animal bedding or as a pest deterrent, Valdez said.

“Pines are really good to have in your home to help clean the air,” she said. “And this is what humans have been doing for centuries – they bring in the pines. That brings in winter, it brings in nature. You see nature, which is a very important part of bringing in the tree – to stay happy during the holidays.”

This file photo shows a small girl getting a Christmas tree in forest. A girl pulling a tree on a sledge. Winter day. | Photo by Halfpoint/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Both live and plastic trees can contain harmful chemicals, then-intern McKinely Ball wrote in “I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas,” a 2019 article published by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. Those interested in purchasing a live tree should shop at a local vendor that is low-pesticide and organic to reduce the number of chemicals brought into their home.

Additionally, holiday light displays use approximately 6.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, and while Ball “isn’t saying the light shows need to stop,” decorators should consider switching the LED lights and using a timer.

“According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LED lights have a longer lifespan while consuming 70 percent less energy than older incandescent strands of lights,” Ball writes. “Running these lights on a timer will ensure that energy isn’t being used on lights all night while not a creature is stirring.”

Celebrators can also create their own decor or use items already in their homes creatively. For instance, Valdez said she hangs a clay ornament featuring her dog’s pawprint and reuses Halloween decorations.

“Find unique things like that and make it your own,” she said.

Celebrating sustainably

This file photo shows Marigold Gardens at the Festival City Market, Cedar City, Utah, June 11, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

HEAL Utah suggests shopping locally for holiday meals, at farmers’ markets and co-ops, Valdez shared in an email.

“Think about how far some of your produce has to travel,” she writes. “An avocado has to travel thousands of miles so we can enjoy glorious avocados here in Utah. By adjusting your shopping habits and unplugging from the harmful cycle, you can cut your emissions footprint.”

Other ways to shop more sustainably,include using reusable bags and taking containers to stores where bulk shopping is available, Valdez wrote.

“Oftentimes, a lot of what you are paying for at the grocery store is packaging, which also impacts the environment, both by the materials needed to make the packaging and by creating more non-compostable/biodegradable material to fill our landfills and oceans,” she writes. “By bringing your own containers for certain items, you are saving money and protecting the earth.”

When cooking for holiday celebrations, Valdez said an individual’s emissions can be reduced by limiting their use of electricity by grilling outdoors, preparing cold foods like salads and sandwiches or using the microwave.

When using the stove or oven, make large batches of food items that can be used for multiple meals without having to cook them again from scratch. For instance, a large batch of rice can be used to create several dishes, she said.

Stock image | Photo by Qwart/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

To reduce leftover waste, which “piles up in our landfills and is a proven source of methane-air pollution,” Valdez shared several alternative ways to dispose of food scraps.

These include freezing or freeze-drying leftovers, composting produce scraps or making do-it-yourself meat-based or vegetable stock, as can be seen in this guide available on Allrecipes.

Trash waste almost doubles during the holidays in America, so Valdez suggests using reusable items and recyclable paper and avoiding disposable dishes and utensils.

“It’s really hard to do because no one likes doing dishes, myself included,” Valdez said. “But … maybe that’s a good present to give someone – you do the dishes at the Christmas party. That’s a really damn good present.”

Green gift giving

File photo: St. George Regional Airport, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the city of St. George, St. George News

“Thoughtful, intentional gift-giving” has become a lost practice as more people rely on “fast-paced, cheap presents,” Valdez said.

“And while it’s great to show appreciation to people with those cheap fast-produced products, a lot of times those products will actually end up in the trash,” she said.

Gift cards are “always really helpful for people,” Valdez said, adding that the recipients can then ensure they get what they want or need. For instance, she said she has purchased airline gift cards to contribute to a loved one’s next trip.

Southern Utahns could also regift items that they no longer use, such as a knickknack their friend or family would appreciate, or books they might enjoy, Valdez said. These presents would need to be cleaned first.

One idea that some overlook is a person’s time or presence, Valdez said. Baking goods, spending time together and reaching out to loved ones is “definitely more of what this holiday is and I think people really want to see that come back.”

“What’s great about being sustainable is it also encourages you to be creative,” she said.

A man opening a present wrapped with ad paper, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 18, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, St. George News

Individuals can use scrap paper, like an old newspaper, to wrap gifts and make tags or reuse old wrapping paper and gift bags, Valdez said. Families can also wrap presents with blank scrap paper and let their children decorate them.

“Maybe it isn’t that shiny, but letting your kids decorate the Christmas presents – people will love it,” she said. “Their grandparents will love it. And it makes your gifts and gift – they’re unique to you.”

Additionally, shredding leftover wrapping paper helps it to break down more quickly in the environment, Valdez said.

Christmas cards can be made by hand instead of purchased, Valdez said.

“I’m sure most of us probably have some art supplies stashed away somewhere – use them,” she said. “Make some cards. Make something for someone even if it’s a simple folded piece of paper with your version of a Christmas tree or ornament. Those Christmas cards are going to mean so much more to your friends and family.”

Sustaining the community

Shopping locally at small shops and neighborhood bookstores can also help with “Sustaining your community,” Valdez said.

A close-up of a fake Christmas tree, Cedar City, Utah, Dec. 18, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, St. George News

“Donate to your nonprofits if you can,” she said. “If you cannot, see if you can volunteer or sign up for the next year or find some other way to help support your local community nonprofits.”

To support local nonprofits, Southern Utahns can donate via Smith’s Inspiring Donations program. The program doesn’t cost the shopper any extra money but funds will be donated to the selected nonprofit when they use their rewards card.

HEAL Utah posted a video on Instagram demonstrating the process.

Similarly, shoppers can donate to charity via the AmazonSmile program, which will contribute 0.5% of eligible purchases to a user’s selected nonprofit with no additional fees, according to its website.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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