How to have a ‘greener’ holiday

Fretting that the tree may be the only part of the holiday season that is green?

Experts say household waste often increases more than 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. That means the holidays can have a negative impact on the environment.

However, there are ways to make the holidays more environmentally friendly.

“Small changes to our routines can help make the holiday season more fun and less wasteful,” said Gordie Bennett, UT Knoxville’s sustainability manager.

An informal poll of UT Knoxville faculty and staff members found some unique and easy tips for “greening” the holidays this season:

“Instead of buying decor, I primarily use clippings from my yard. Leaves and branches can make the most beautiful, natural decor—and you get the pruning done in the process!”

—Elizabeth Avery, professor, College of Communication & Information

“I usually collect boxes that I would otherwise have to take to recycling and I try to use them for packing Christmas presents that I send to friends abroad or in the U.S. or give to family.”

—Heather Grigsby, coordinator, Programs Abroad

“I am going to shop as locally as possible for Christmas. Another goal is not to use any plastic bag for gift shopping. I always load up on reusable bags.”

—Courtney Washburn, AmeriCorps member and Sustainability Outreach coordinator

“At my house we try to follow my Nordic culture and be less wasteful. Fabric from old clothes becomes material for the kids’ art projects. Old shelving and storage furniture becomes storage for the garage or basement. We all like our sweaters so we also try to keep the house temperature cool, wear our woolens, and sip hot cider or cocoa.”

—Sanna Serspinski, coordinator, International Student and Scholar Services

“I put a dimmer on my Christmas lights, reuse gift bags, and use old comics as wrapping paper.”

—Josh Queener, photographer and producer, UT Video & Photo Department

“Three years ago my family decided we were wasting time, money, and energy shopping around for gifts for one another, so we quit. Instead, we all have stockings hung by the chimney with care, and each family member drops a small item in each of the stockings. We all love the new tradition. One by-product of this model is that we all have more time to enjoy get-togethers, musical presentations, and events in the city during the holiday season.”

—Mary Anne Hoskins, associate director, College of Arts and Sciences

“After I’m done baking, I turn my oven off but leave the door slightly open, so it heats my home. We also take our Christmas tree to have it mulched at Ijams Nature Center after we’re done with it.”

—Alisa Meador, assistant director, Programs Abroad

“This year I will give ‘sustainable’ gifts when possible. I have purchased a compost pail for vegetable scraps, egg shells, etc., as one gift and will purchase a retractable outdoor clothesline as another gift.”

—Jerri Daoust, administrative coordinator, College of Engineering

“Instead of buying candles or PlugIns or using other synthetic chemicals, I simmer orange slices and cinnamon sticks on my stove. This does require the use of energy, but it’s not something that is plugged in all day, nor does it run out so quickly that I have to constantly repurchase and generate trash from. I can pour the whole pot into my compost when I am done.”

—Tiffany Morrison, safety coordinator, Institute of Agriculture

“One cool green thing we do each year is to hand dip chocolates. My mom makes the centers with as many different ingredients as possible (like raisins or pecans). She then gives them out as gifts to her friends. She doesn’t wrap them—just buys nice boxes for them—then collects as many boxes back as she can for the next go-around.”

—Jay Price, coordinator, UT Recycling

“I like to host a couple of holiday potlucks. Everyone is still asked to bring a dish, but we all cook together at my house instead of everyone doing it separately. This way, we pool our resources. The oven can bake several items at once or in a row, and you don’t have to buy an entire bag of sugar or shaker of sprinkles—we can all use the same products, which means everyone buys less. Half the party is the fun of cooking together—it also makes for some interesting moments of dodging a flying spoon, spilling someone’s drink, and taste-testing a new creation! The rest of the party is enjoying collectively what we’ve made.”

—Anne Hulse, coordinator, Programs Abroad

“We are firm believers in re-gifting. We also use old paper grocery bags as wrapping paper. You can decorate it with stencils and paint, and it may end up being nicer than the gift! Also, as our tree lights fail over time, we replace them with more energy-efficient strands.”

—Aly Chapman, laboratory section chief, College of Veterinary Medicine

Bennett adds, “My personal tip is to skip presents in favor of making a contribution to your loved one’s favorite charity. This reduces waste and helps make the holidays a little nicer for someone in need.”

Ideas for other “How To” features? E-mail torch@tennessee.edu.

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