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Climate Chronicles

A collection of thoughts to help waken and inspire.

How to Celebrate the Holidays Sustainably in the time of COVID-19

by
Shelah Ott
3 min

If you’re scrambling for last-minute holiday gifts (like some of us), it can be tempting to give in to Amazon Prime delivery and the holiday deals at big businesses, throw the likely unethically and unsustainably made items in a gift bag, and call it a day. But with economic losses resulting from the pandemic, and continued impacts of climate injustices,it is even more important to shop ethically and sustainably this year.


With transportation accounting for 28 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by economic sector in 2018, and an increase in package deliveries around the holidays, shopping at local, small-owned businesses with sustainably made or second hand gifts is one of the best ways to resist climate change and stimulate the local economy. If you choose to leave your house for holiday shopping, walking or biking to a small owned business is encouraged. In particular, we’re considering how we can best support small businesses owned by Black folks, Indigenous friends and People of Color. If there’s one thing we took from 2020, it’s that our actions are needed to continue showing up for racial and environmental justice.


With the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, shopping in person is not considered the safest option for folks. Many small businesses have gotten creative with local delivery and if you have friends or family who will be shopping in person this year, consider reaching out to them to arrange no-contact drop offs from your favorite local shops. If neither of those options are working out, consider getting gifts delivered to your loved ones from small businesses local to them, so you can save on emissions from shipping presents to them from where you are. In these uncertain times, we’re reminded that the health of our communities and the health of the planet are interdependent. Regardless of whether or not you’re leaving your house to get gifts, there are so many other ways to celebrate sustainably this holiday season--and for good reason. The EPA estimates that the American household waste increases by more than 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day for an estimated additional one million tons of wasted food, shopping bags and gift wrap per week! Along with buying items that are ethically and sustainably made, here are additional tips for a more conscious holiday celebration this year:


1) Say no to plastic and paper bags when buying presents

  • This one may be a little harder while reusable bags are not allowed in some stores, but many stores will allow you to bring them in as long as you bag your items yourself.

2) Rethink gift wrapping

  • If you don’t have gift wrap or bags leftover from previous years, instead of buying new ones, you can opt to use newspaper, reusable bags, reusable gift wrap (for a gift that really keeps on giving!), any leftover shopping bags or just skip the wrapping altogether! If you’re sending packages yourself, consider looking on websites like OfferUp, Buy Nothing or Nextdoor for free shipping boxes.

3) Aim for little to no food waste

  • In San Diego, we typically throw away 40 percent of food, which is higher than the national average. Instead of contributing to that already staggering number, we can be proactive about food waste this year and prevent an increase in methane emissions from adding to over overflowing landfills. We can do this by preparing “just enough” rather than way too much, distributing leftovers to friends, family and houseless folks, freezing leftovers we’re likely to eat and composting the scraps we don’t use while cooking.

4) Get creative for gift giving

  • Do-It-Yourself (DIY) gifts are even more popular this year as we’re spending most of our time at home. Think outside the box for a meaningful, hand-made gift that uses household items. Need inspiration? Pinterest always has great DIY ideas!

5) Gift intentional quality time to your quarantine partners

  • If you’re quarantining with someone you want to spend quality time with, like a friend or significant other, consider planning a thoughtful hangout or date at a COVID-safe place like your home or a park that isn’t crowded. Make it special with energy efficient LED string lights, games, plant-based and locally sourced food (if accessible) and holiday-themed sweaters and music!

6) Gift a donation on behalf of a loved one

  • A great alternative to buying people more things they likely don’t need is donating to a nonprofit organization on behalf of the person receiving the gift. You can even symbolically adopt an animal through the World Wildlife Fund, and the funds go towards programs to help conserve and protect that species.

7) And for last minute gift ideas…


Thanks for caring and reading this post. Individual actions add up and can make an impact reducing carbon emissions contributing to the climate crisis. Happy holidays! 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

- Margaret Mead

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