Tips for an Eco-Conscious Holiday Season

Karlie Hayes

2021-22 Zero Waste Ambassador


As December begins and finals week comes to an end, many of us will take part in holiday traditions. From Kwanzaa, to Hanukkah, to Christmas, to Omisoka, to New Years’, winter is an opportunity to find joy and spend time with our families. 

Following are a few tips for how to make our holiday season more sustainable by reducing our waste impact and energy footprint. Feel free to use the tips that work for you!

Gifts

Gift-giving is a way to show our loved ones that we care, but sometimes we forget about our love for the planet. Across its life cycle, the average product results in carbon emissions 6.3 times its own weight. One way to reduce this impact is to focus on buying gifts of quality, not quantity. For example, consider asking your family and friends for a wish list to ensure you are buying a gift that they will truly enjoy. Not having to return gifts saves carbon emissions that would have been spent on transportation, packaging, and manufacture of a product that may never be resold.

Other low-carbon options include handmade, experiential, or locally-bought gifts. To avoid wrapping waste, consider reusing gift bags or wrapping items in recyclable wrapping paper, (avoid glossy or glittery paper, which isn’t recyclable). 

Tree

If you celebrate Christmas, choosing a sustainable Christmas tree can help you reduce your carbon footprint. According to the British Carbon Trust, an artificial tree used over many years (seven to twenty years, depending on the size and materials used) is better for the environment than a commercially-grown tree. If you buy a real tree, check for those that are Forest Stewardship Council-certified, slow-grown, or grown without fertilizer. To be even more sustainable, consider renting a potted tree with roots, which can be reused over multiple years until it reaches full maturity and is replanted in the woods. 

Disposing of your tree properly can also decrease its environmental impact. If a tree ends up in the landfill, it will decompose and release methane, leading to a hefty 35 pounds of emissions. However, Christmas trees that are chipped or repotted have a much lower carbon footprint of 7.5 pounds.

Food

Many of us look forward to traditional sweets and meals at this time of year, and it is unsurprising that as a population, we eat more during the holiday season than any other time. To prevent food waste from entering the landfill, consider freezing dinner leftovers. The type of foods you serve during this time can also make a significant impact – try buying fair trade chocolate gelt or focusing on mostly vegetarian dishes that have a much lower environmental impact than meat. 

Decorations

A home filled with lights and cozy decorations certainly sets the atmosphere for the holiday season. Make sure you are using LED string lights that use 90% less energy than incandescent lights. Since they are most vibrant at night, also try to turn off your lights during the day to save energy. To keep waste out of the landfill, only buy decorations that will be enjoyed for years to come and avoid any single-use plastics.

Travel

Seeing our loved ones is often the highlight of our holiday season, but traveling can produce a carbon footprint. Luckily, there are ways to travel in more sustainable ways. For example, since flights have a higher carbon footprint than ground travel, consider driving or taking a train between cities. Also, since many people are traveling around the holidays, see if you can share rides. Consider catching a ride home for winter break with a friend to save on carbon emissions and gas money.

We hope you have a wonderful, restful, and joyous winter break and holiday season!

UCLA Recognized for Excellence in Zero Waste Efforts

By Kikei Wong

UCLA Zero Waste Manager


UCLA was recognized by the National Recycling Coalition (NRC) with The Outstanding Higher Education Program Award, given annually to an institution of higher education to recognize exceptional efforts in waste reduction, recycling, and building professional development opportunities for students with an interest in recycling technologies. 

The NRC is a non-profit organization that is focused on the promotion and enhancement of recycling in the United States, representing and advocating for every sector of the recycling industry across the country at the local, state, and federal levels. 

The NRC highlighted our efforts in boosting waste programs including standardizing infrastructure, implementing centralized waste collection, expanding the Zero Waste Ambassadors student program, developing a strong social media presence, and researching the barriers to zero waste on and off campus. These programs and initiatives strengthen our endeavors to reach UCLA’s Zero Waste Goals by increasing accessibility of waste infrastructure and creating programming that meets the needs of the campus while providing students with professional development opportunities that prepare them for post-graduation. Recent alumni involved in the programs now work in local government, the UC system, non-profit organizations, and waste haulers while others have entered graduate school.

We appreciate NRC’s recognition of our efforts to eliminate waste and to boost resource recovery. With the fast growing zero waste initiatives on campus, we strive to empower our entire Bruin community with not only foundational knowledge and skills, but with the resources for success to achieve our goals. UCLA continues to build upon zero waste efforts with the implementation of the campus-wide Single-Use Plastics Policy, adopted in October 2020. The Policy phases out single-use plastics such as plastic bags, plastic foodservice items, and beverage bottles and instead transitions to reusable or locally compostable alternatives. This applies to all foodservice facilities, events, fundraisers, and meetings that serve food or beverages on campus and requires campus-wide collaboration and cooperation from students, faculty, and staff. UCLA’s goals will be achieved with the support of every member of the UCLA community.

Any questions can be directed to zerowaste@ucla.edu

Make this Thanksgiving the Cleanest, Greenest Ever

By Liz Kennedy

Director of Ethical Labor and Sustainability at Trademarks & Licensing, ASUCLA


As we travel fewer miles from home this year to stay safe during the pandemic, Thanksgiving 2020 has the potential to be among the most sustainable holidays in years, seeing as transportation and fuel tops the list of pollution impacts. With that head start, let’s explore how we can make this Thanksgiving the most sustainable ever.

The good news is that most foods that are traditionally eaten during Thanksgiving have a comparatively low environmental footprint to other holidays. A serving of turkey generates less than one fifth as much carbon as beef. As for the fixins of beans, squash, and potatoes, these are all in-season vegetables that have low carbon footprints. 

The bad news is that food waste can erase these gains. Food waste is the second highest cause of greenhouse gas emissions next to air travel on Thanksgiving. Wasted food represents not only the money lost on cost of the food, but the waste of water, fuel, food, fertilizer, and other resources expended to grow or raise it. Some steps to take to cut down on food waste are:

  • Plan ahead. Create your shopping list early with your menu and number of guests* in mind.
  • Eat mindfully. Give thanks, slow it down and savor your delicious Thanksgiving meal.  You’ll most likely find that you’ve eaten less than you normally do.
  • Cut down on single use dinnerware, glasses, napkins, and serving ware, and use reusables.
  • If you do have food waste, don’t put it in the landfill trash where it will generate potent greenhouse gases—use a commercial food waste composting facility instead. Better yet, have guests* bring an empty container for leftovers.

Happy Thanksgiving to you, your family and loved ones, and with all of our efforts, our planet!

(For more information on how to reduce our home carbon footprint, here’s a quick guide)

*Within public health guidelines—the LA County Department of Public Health discourages any gathering of people from multiple households at this time.

Selling Food In Styrofoam

By Niklas van der Wagt

UCLA Carbon Neutrality Ambassadors


The intersection between the COVID-19 pandemic and sustainability is as interesting as it is complicated. One easily identifiable symptom of the pandemic is the decline of sit-in dining at restaurants and other locations, which has lead to increased popularity of pick up and fast food. Of course, this also means more single-use containers used for food.

Even before ‘COVID-19’ was a household term, UCLA was (and still is) committed to being an entirely styrofoam-free campus. Among materials commonly used for food packaging, styrofoam stands out thanks to its low weight, high efficiency, and the threats it poses to general health and the environment.

Many people seem to believe that styrofoam is not great for the environment, but nonetheless a step up from plastic. In reality, the opposite is true; styrofoam is not biodegradable and generally cannot be recycled. On the other hand, many plastics are recyclable.

Astute Bruins will notice that the food containers used at Rendezvous and other on-campus dining locations are not made of styrofoam, but of a more environmentally friendly, compostable material. By implementing strategies such as this one, UCLA hopes to be a styrofoam-free campus and contribute to the greater movement of sustainability. However, individual student choices are still the deciding factor for what comes in and out of the university. In early 2020, I helped out in a Powell trash sort, at which we did exactly what the name implies. After sorting through too many bags full of trash to count, I was surprised at the amount of single-use styrofoam and plastics we sorted. I was also surprised to find books, reusable water bottles, and a lot of puff bars, but that’s not the point.

Clearly, these single-use materials are coming from places outside of UCLA. While indulging in some delicious orange chicken served in a styrofoam box from Panda Express does not make you a bad person, gratuitous use of these harmful materials is a danger to public health and the environment. If you have the option (more often than not, we do!), try to avoid styrofoam and other single-use food containers.