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Keeping the environment in mind among the abundance of the holidays

By Janet Chen

Reindeer made of recycled bicycle parts in Dr. Griffith's classroom Photo by Janet Chen
Reindeer made of recycled bicycle parts in Dr. Griffith’s classroom
Photo by Janet Chen

If the holiday music radio stations, brightly embellished homes and bombardment of shopping advertisements are any indication, the holiday season is well underway. Before the streets of Alameda collapse into a complete festive frenzy, here are a few considerations to make this month for a more environmentally sound holiday celebration.

The holiday season, while arguably the most explosive time of spirit and cheer, makes a significantly negative environmental impact each year. Consumption rates skyrocket to an annual high, whether it be for trees, gifts, decorations or food. The chilly weather lends itself for higher energy use given that we use heaters indoors, and the need for mobility in transport and travels only exacerbates this problem.

To decorate in an energy conscious manner, consider using LED lights to string around your house or tree. LED lights are much more efficient than the traditional incandescent light bulb, using 90% less energy to produce the same degree of luminous intensity. Also, limit the hours of lighting to night time so that they are turned off in daylight. This way, we can enjoy the festive aesthetics of the decorated streets while cutting back on energy consumption.

Another major source of energy usage during the holiday season is the transport of artificial trees from overseas manufacturers. The alternative to that would be to purchase real trees from local farms, which contribute to the community’s economy. Some other benefits of choosing real trees are that small ones can be planted in the garden or kept as house plants, and that tree recycling programs, such as Alameda’s Boy Scouts troop 11’s annual tree pick up, collect and return the trees back to Alameda as mulch.

However, sometimes artificial trees are the more beneficial option. If real trees are cut down for the use of decoration inside the home, species are displaced in the process. Since trees also constitute our main supply of oxygen, the removal of them proves detrimental towards living organisms that need oxygen to live.

While only some parts of artificial trees can be recycled, they last long and rarely need to be disposed of. Because of this, they can generally be reused each year. Neither artificial nor real trees are much more environmentally advantageous than the other, so with either option, just make sure to purchase ones that are minimal in size.

Gifting is another area where we can drastically reduce our environmental impact with our choices. When purchasing, check antique stores or other second-hand stores to reuse items before buying something new. Avoid items that come with excessive packaging, and opt to purchase cards that are made with recycled paper.

When wrapping presents, give the item a recycled flair by using newspaper, old magazine pages, or even festive fabrics to cover up the gifts. Newspaper and magazine pages are also great resources to use for holiday crafts, and can easily be made into decorative ornaments or cut into snowflakes.

Also, consider gifting in different forms this year. Purchasing items for family and friends always runs the risk of being re-gifted or thrown away if not needed or wanted by the receiver. Instead, consider gifting in experience rather than material presents. For example, give tickets to a special event that you know the person would enjoy. Whether it be for ice skating, a concert, or a special exhibit at a museum, the gift of experience also comes with the value of company and created memories that will be treasured for life.

The meaning of the holiday season has also evolved, now in an inextricable relationship with shopping and consumerism. So in addition to consuming in an environmentally conscious way, make sure to bring reusable bags to hold what is purchased. If the destination is within reasonable distance, bike, walk, or take public transportation to reduce energy usage. The cold weather sometimes disincentivizes people to exercise, but even a brisk stroll or bicycle ride is beneficial towards health and well-being.

And in the aftermath of Christmas carols, family feasts, and purchased presents, consider that while many of us are privileged enough to enjoy a fulfilling holiday experience, several people are less fortunate and lack basic necessities that we may take for granted. With that in mind, there are several local charities that would benefit from donations of clothes, appliances, furniture, or volunteer service. This would allow for the reuse of unnecessary items, and the mitigation of difficulties that a large proportion of the world endures–even if slightly. So enjoy this holiday season taking care of yourself, others and the environment.




AHS Journalism
The Oak Leaf, a product of the journalism class, is a vehicle of student expression and a public forum for the Alameda High School community.