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Tips For Sustainable Holidays

Christmas display, December 2008.  Sustainabilty experts recommended cutting ...

Above: Christmas display, December 2008. Sustainabilty experts recommended cutting back on large displays. If you do use decorations that consume energy, try to limit the amount of time you use them. Photo by Carlos del Vaca.


Along with precious moments, the holidays also generate a lot of garbage. From wrapping paper to plastic packaging, along with all the leftovers and travel and last-minute dashes to the store the holidays are usually a time of excess. We'll talk about ways to cut down on the waste and make the season a little greener.

It's a typical scene at the end of Christmas morning piles of wrapping paper, boxes, holiday bags and tissue paper litter the room and that's just the obvious part of our holiday waste. There's the extra energy use and travel and all the food that's made and sometimes thrown away and then in the days after Christmas, people, who got new stuff like clothes and electronics, have to find a good way to get rid of the old stuff.

But environmentalists are reminding us that there are things we can to do cut down on this annual pile of post-Holiday rubbish and put a little extra green in the season.

San Diego State University has recently offered a list of 15 tips for making the holidays more Sustainable.


Mariah Hudson, sustainability coordinator at the San Diego State University Center for Regional Sustainability.

Paul Melchior, director of SDSU Dining Services.

Vinod Sasidharan, founder and advisor of SDSU's sustainable tourism management program.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. It's a typical scene at the end of Christmas morning, piles of wrapping paper, boxes, holiday bags and tissue paper litter the room, and that's just the obvious part of our holiday waste. There's the extra energy use, and travel, and all the food that gets made, and sometimes thrown away. And then in the days after Christmas, people who got new stuff like clothes and electronics have to find a good way to get rid of the old stuff. But environmentalists are reminding us that there are things we can do to get down on this annual pile of post holiday rubbish. San Diego state university has republic offered a list of 15 tips are making the holidays more sustainable. And I'd like to welcome my guests, Mariah Hudson is sustainability coordinator at the San Diego State University Center for Regional Sustainability for regional sustainability. Hello, Mariah.

HUDSON: Hi, good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You're not on the phone, you're right here with me. Vinod Sasidharan is coordinator of -- tourism and management program. And Paul Melchior is director of SDSU dining services, good morning, Paul.

MELCHIOR: Good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. We're having some problems with sounds, but we're moving right along. We're talking about being -- having a sustainability holiday season, and Mariah, this are five shopping days left before Christmas. So for people who are buying gifts, going on those last minute trips to buy the gifts, are there some tips for sustainable giving.

HUDSON: Absolutely, the first thing I would say, is try to combine your trips if you can. That's really a great way to cut down to the transport costs. Also, if you're doing on line shopping try not to go to the over night option, that takes about 20 percent more carbon in terms of fuel. Now, in terms of what you buy, you might think a little bit out of the box, maybe outside of the big box, and look to some local stores for hand Ed ma'50s or legally made products.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because of this whole world of sustainability is really a 360 world, it takes in everything, not only not wasting things but also looking at trying to maintain the community. Maintain the community spirit, by, as you say, buying from perhaps a smaller store.

HUDSON: Absolutely. And when I think about sustainability, I think about it in terms of, you know, not just the environmental, but also the social and the economic. So any time you can add back through, say, a farmer's market, through local farmers is a great way to support our community.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You know, I want toy are mind our listeners that they're invited to join this conversation. And I bet a lot of people have ideas about cutting down on trash and waste during the holidays. What are you doing? If you have personal tips, we'd love to hear about them, give us a call with your questions and your comments, our number is 1-888-895-5727. For those of us Mariah who are still planning to wrap presents, put them under the tree and so forth, are there any ways to cut back on all that paper wrapping waste?

HUDSON: Oh, you bet. First, you can look to maybe making your own paper. Especially if you have chin, that could be a fun activity, drawing on some paper, some recycled paper, let's hope.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Vinod, you concentrate on the travel aspect of the holidays. Gentlemanly speaking, people do travel an awful lot, but do they make a lot of wasteful trips do you think?

SASIDHARAN: Yes, Maureen, before I answer that, I'm not the coordinator for the -- [CHECK] the found are the sustainable program at San Diego state. And I'm mostly advisor of that am Mr.. In terms of your question about sustainability and travel, there's a lot of ideas that we can provide to travelers, potential travelers 'cause as you know from the triple A release, lately, about 92 percent of the travelers in the holidays will be traveling at least 50 miles. In this case, making sustainability choices really depends on the traveler. There are lots of sustainability holiday ideas out there, but there's a lot of green washing too.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What does that mean?

SASIDHARAN: Green washing is somebody trying to provide a sustainability option for you, a sustainable holiday, a sustainable activity, but the onus of those [CHECK] -- when we look at travelers, and in this society, we have travelers who are conscious about the green aspects of -- in terms of energy use, in terms of carbon emissions, in terms of waste, in terms of energy reduction, all those kinds of issues of so it's really on the shoulders of the traveler. But the key point is to -- if you choose your travel options, consider going slow, meaning rely on fewer modes of transportation, when you issue at a destination. I think that's something that we can all do. . And there are lots of sources out there for the traveling for the sustainability traveler to make those decisions. One of those choices is rightly available on your finger tips, and that's the Internet. Search if he ever hotels that have a CSR certification, which is a [CHECK], or look for destinations that have a high walk score. Meaning walkable destinations or try and look for destinations where you might have some kind of volunteering opportunity helping the community, giving back. We as travelers have a lot of free time during the holidays. Try to do something to give back, and what a better way to meet local people, do some projects together, and I've heard from people before who have been on volunteer vacations, they've made long-term relationships, friendships, they sent postcard, they have invited them back home. And specially what's travel, travel is all about good memories and also feeling good, and giving back being a sustainable traveler, and engaging in community initiatives, giving back to the community is what -- would really qualify in terms of being a sustainable holiday.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Lots of good ideas, I want to invite our listen ares once again, 1-888-895-5727. We're talking about tips for making the holidays, which is usually pretty much of a wasteful San, if you think about it, a little bit green. What are the things that you're cooing to maybe cut back just a little on high school day waste? We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And Paul Melchior, let's talk about the menu, I mean, a lot -- there are lots of food being made, lots of food being eaten, but lots of food kind of going by the wayside, not really being eaten, left overs thrown out, that kind of thing. [CHECK].

MELCHIOR: Well, I find a interesting tug of war with holidays, because holidays are built around traditions. And you have to challenge the paradigms of your traditions when it comes to menu planning for sustainable practices. What I really talk about is maybe get rid of that old recipe for the tradition stuffing with sausage in there, and gear more thinking of what's in season locally. So it doesn't take up so much carbon footprint get there. So in San Diego what's in season right now is fresh citrus, pomegranates, fun things like that that you can mix in with the menus of the other thing that I like to do is the favorite R of the reduce, reuse and recycle for me, is reduce. So I come from a large family, we always had, tons of left overs. And after the third time, left overs aren't great anymore. So really pear down your portioning before you make it in your mind. And make smaller batches so you use less food, then you'll have less left overs and so forth. When everything's all said and done, and everybody's done, then compost all the food left overs.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's what I was gonna and you, people actually do make too much, and they do have a lot of left overs, that's what you would recommend they do?

MELCHIOR: Yes, at least butt it through a composting percent, and it turns it right back into earth, and -- the really cool thing we were talking about before we started is, when you compost at home, you have all of these plants that pop up all over your yard. I've got tomato plants, I've got basil plants of Vinod was talking about squash that he found growing in -- and it's just a wonderful little gift back from the. Composting.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's lovely. Yet, now, I'm wondering, Mariah, for people who put up holiday decorations, is this a big strain on the electricity budget? Is there any way to cut down on how much hematocrit you use for those decorations?

HUDSON: You know, decorations can be a big drain on --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A little musical interlude there.

HUDSON: Decorations can be a big drain electricity, especially those pop up, blowup displays that are pretty popular right now, that takes a lot of electricity to get those going, and sustain those. And people tend to leave them up all night, even when folks report awake. Looking at LED for outside and even inside, is a good option, this oozes about 20 percent of the electricity of your regular holiday lights.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm thinking back to that Chevy Chase movie, remember, when they just blew out the whole neighborhood basically because of how many holiday lights they put up. Having lots of holiday lights, having a street filled with holiday lights is part of a tradition for a lot of people. So is there any way that people can carry on those traditions and also give a nod to the idea that they don't want to be wasteful?

HUDSON: I think there's two ways to do that, first I mentioned the LED, that was an initial expense. I would say maybe looking at something like luminaries, which are beautiful outside, and you can frame a walk way with those, or decorating through the use of greens, especially if you have some local greens, maybe you can cut and put why -- is another way to cell operate.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But they don't light up at night, do they?

HUDSON: Close the spare room if you're gonna really light it up on the outside.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: My guests are Mariah had you had don, Vinod Sasidharan, and Paul Melchior. SDSU has recently offered a tip of 15 ways that you can make the holidays more sustainable. And we're talking about those tips, and also taking any tips that you might have on cutting down the waste during the holiday season of the number here is 1-888-895-5727. You know, Vinod, when you think about waste, you also think about all those last minute trips of now, I have to admit that I find myself really dashing around, oh, I forgot this, oh, I've gotta get this, and so you really shouldn't do that, should you?

SASIDHARAN: I'm gonna do that myself, actually.


SASIDHARAN: But the reality is that we are in a -- and this is actually adding on to what Paul was mentioning early recall. There is a paradigm shift that needs to take place in terms of how we approach our different behaviors, whether it comes to holiday shopping or when it comes to choosing the right kinds of products. What we're gonna give our best friends or spouses, etc., etc., whether it -- you know, when it comes to holiday shopping not really a big supporter of buying things at the last minute. But we can always make the right choices, there are -- one of the things that we could do is buy holiday gifts from local shops. And stores as opposed to driving all the way to a mall and wasting, you know, gas and things of that nature. We could -- there are lots of places around,. From, for example around San Diego state, we have places around La Mesa, El Cajon Boulevard, and these are communities that could really use some of your -- some of the dollars in these harsh economic times. So I would currently the listeners here to think about shopping locally. As opposed to traveling long distances or -- [CHECK] and sitting for 20, 30 minutes and wasting all that fuel, think about going to a local crafts store. That means a lot. And it's giving back to that community.


SASIDHARAN: So far that's one thing that I can give you have as my personal advice.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And one thing, perhaps considering the weather we have right now, if you are going to be going to a major mall, perhaps just public transportation, just organize when you're gonna get and use public transportation.

SASIDHARAN: That is true, but realistically, a lot of San Diegans do not have good access to public transportation, as we all know of but we do have a lot of depressed communities in these economic times. And I think while we are purchasing for holidays, I would hope that we would also think about those folks who might need a few extra economic [[]] to purchase for their holidays too, as opposed to, you know, providing funds to corporate national chains, international chains, where the money usually leaks out of the community, in this case, the money that the traveler or the spender or the person who's buying gives spends, stays in that local economy. And that's not just this holiday, we have to think about future holidays as well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Exactly, exactly. Make this part of your tradition of the holidaysism a longer tradition, yeah.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Getting back to that tradition that you were talking about, the recipes that people use and the ingredients that they get, I'm wondering, it sounds to me, that a lot of the extra stuff that people buy this type of year is because they don't have a real organization. It's sort of like, oh, I need a -- there's gonna be a party, I'll need this, this, and this. How much would organization beforehand, you know, really mapping out how much you actually need do to cut down on waste, do you think?

MELCHIOR: Well, I think it's a key. You know, we're -- we typically have in the past roasted a prime rib for Christmas or whatever. This year, we decided we're gonna go Italian theme. Because I do have that beautiful basil, and I got some tomato, and by picking a different theme, that kind of begs you to sit down and plan it. Of because you're not doing the same thing you do every time. But I want to get back to another tradition thing, one of the best years, Christmases I remember having, us again, from a large family is my dad left his job and went back to school so we didn't have a lot of money, so instead of giving gifts, we took the time that bee would take to go out and look for a gift. And we wrote something really nice for one of our family members and we put it in a box, a small box, and we wrapped it up, and put it under the tree.


SASIDHARAN: That was one of the best Christmases that I could ever remember. Because you remember those memories a lot more than you remember that Ipad or some other --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Did you promise to do something for members of the family or just express your feelings?

MELCHIOR: Really, it was expressing feelings.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Oh, that's interesting. Of we are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Nan Sternin, our garden expert is on the line, and good morning, Nan, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, how are you?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just fine, thanks for calling in. .

NEW SPEAKER: Well, this is a great topic, and you know, it applies to more than Christmas, it applies to almost every holiday I can think of, and I have to say, I am guilty guilty guilty of cooking too much and having too much left overs. Of.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think you're not alone there, nan.

NEW SPEAKER: Yea, but I was wondering and you were talking about composting leftovers, which is a great thing to do. And I just wanted to remind your listeners that you can compost vegetable matter and fruit matter, but ya can't compost request of the meat or the cheeses or oils or any of that. Just the fruit and vegetable products.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Good tip. Thank you, nan. Thanks very much for come calling in. Happy holidays.

NEW SPEAKER: Happy holidays to you too. Of bye-bye.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Kathy is calling in from North County. Good morning, Kathy welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi there, well, we live here in lake Hodges and we live out in the chaparral, so I make a habit in the entire year of cooking too much and feeds my neighbors, people who are single or people who are widowed. And so for us, it's justice a way of life. And if we ever do cook a Turkey, the coyotes get the carcass.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ah, so have your own recycling method there.

NEW SPEAKER: Oh, absolutely.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Kathy thank you so much, and happy holidays, thanks for calling in. You know, I'm wondering, Mariah, people get a lot of stuff at Christmas time. You know, the clothes, you get new electronics, you get -- and then you have to get lid of the old stuff. So when are some good ways of actually getting rid of that stuff, let's say in January, you know, without just piling it into the dumpster or something like that?

HUDSON: Well, first if it's electronic, in you're getting rid of your old computer or whatever it is, your old game system, I would take a look at recycle San because they have free E-waste recycling days, I know there's one on the eighth, and 1 on the fifteenth. As you're looking to give those things away, sore have them not go into a landfill, that's a gray way to do. Of other ways of getting the [CHECK] Paul raised of giving gifts that aren't necessarily things of a lot of people realize that they have expertise or they have some time that they can give. Will and that can be a special gift.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You know, the days after Christmas, I'll go to the dumpster area in my condo complex, and that poor little blue pin is just exploded. People are just trying to cram all these boxes that they've gotten reports for. What kind of tips do you have for people not to do that? Because once that bin gets over flowed, it starts going into the dumpster, and the whole concept of recycling goes out the door.

HUDSON: I know, it's so tempting to when that blue box gets fill said, to just shove it in the can. But you really don't want to do that?0 [CHECK] they will recycle it at Mira Mar Greenery, that will take something a little bit out of your normal trash fill.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell me more about the tree curb side. What does that mean? They'll pick up your tree?

HUDSON: That's my understanding, in the City of San Diego, they will do that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see. Well, that's a change, isn't it? 123450 I'm not sure. And the one thing I would add to that, is that is they don't -- most municipalities do not take flock trees. So if you're thinking about the flocking, you might forego it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, let's take another call, Joyce is calling from La Mesa.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. I get a catalog from a company called SERRV, serve, and it's a nonprofit organization which deals with sustainable fair crafts and foods from around the world. And I've been very happy with everything I've gotten from them. They're beautifully made, they're inexpensive, but I guess it really helps somebody in [CHECK] or wherever it is that they're making them. And I just wanted to say they have the best milk chocolate I have ever tasted. Of.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Joyce, thank you for that. What do you think of that kind of a catalog and also the catalogs we get around this type time of year, where you donate a certain amount of money that a village will get chickens or a goat or something like that? Is that a way to reduce the waste of the holidays, do you think, Vinod?

SASIDHARAN: I think, Joyce, that's a great idea. But one of the things I would ask you to do, if you get the time, ever, is to look up SERRV's claims, There are a lot of organizations [CHECK] trying to make claims that may not necessarily be true, and you're spending money with a good will in mind, and I would highly recommend that you pick up that phone. And this is one of the things we can do, when we check out the Internet, maybe we don't find enough information. Pick up the phone and find out exactly how they make the money or the profits, or a portion of the profits go back to that small vision. Or maybe wherever in Africa. But I think it is very important to verify those claims. But all in all, I think it's a very good way of giving back and being a global citizen especially in these times. There are far worse crises such as poverty and, my gosh, HIV, AIDS, that we could really address besides just being cheerful during the holidays, bring some holiday cheer to somebody who really needs some basic resources like clean running water.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I was just gonna say in the minute that we have left, actually less than a minute now, I just wanted to ask all of you quickly, if there were one change that you could make during the holidays, what would you do, Mariah.

HUDSON: I would just say buy a little less. That's a great place to start.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just buy a little less. And because?

MELCHIOR: They're closer to home.


SASIDHARAN: I would say buy nothing at all, but just spend some quality time with your family and friends.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you all so much. Really such very interesting ideas for changing the holidays just a little bit. And thank SDSU for putting out these 15 tips for making the holidays more sustainable. Thank you, and thank you to everyone who called, you're listening to These Days on KPBS.

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