Many students—and some faculty and staff—leave campus during winter break, so our interns have come up with a list of ideas for how to prepare yourself for a sustainable and meaningful time away. Below, Maddie Clarke and Hannah Kasun offer a range of tips covering cooking, energy savings, travel, and more.
Reuse gift wrap, or make your own
- Fact: If every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields!
- If you don’t have last year’s gift wrap to reuse, try using brown packaging paper instead of traditional gift wrap for a more sustainable alternative.
- Instead of purchasing new ribbons and bows, add scarves, fabric, or handkerchiefs to bring a unique touch to your gift.
Buy locally and sustainably
- Take a stroll down State Street or through another local neighborhood to check out the many stores and restaurants that feature sustainable products and practices. Buying locally also reduces your carbon footprint and promotes social sustainability by supporting the local economy.
Skip material gifts altogether
- Do you have a friend or family member who would love cooking classes, karate lessons, or rock concert tickets? Just think—sharing a pair of Ed Sheeran tickets would be a gift for you as well! A few places to get you started: Majestic Madison, Orpheum Theater, Liquid Madison, and the Piano Bar.
Time your holiday lights
- Why waste energy on holiday lights when you’re not around to enjoy them? Plug your lights into timers so you can get the most out of your energy usage.
- Energy Star rated LED lights are also a great energy upgrade.
Turn down the heat
- If you’re traveling during the holidays, even for just a couple of nights, make sure to turn the heat in your apartment down to 58 degrees before you leave.
Pull the plug
- Your trusty coffee maker will miss you enough already; it doesn’t need to be on while you’re not around! Unplug your coffee maker, tea kettle, microwave, and computer before you leave for the holidays. If you use power strips, switch them off, too!
Forget the plane ticket, grab a bus
- Bus tickets are almost always cheaper than flights, and long commutes give you the rare chance to finish your *cough cough* history readings on the Vietnam War (or let’s be honest—a quality Netflix binge or trashy romance novel).
While You’re Away
Entertain like an environmentalist
- Fact: U.S. consumers waste 150,000lbs of food per day, and we can do better.
- Reusable plates and cutlery keep landfills in check. Save those leftovers and share what you can’t eat. Sick of those cheesy potatoes that were only good the first four times? Freeze your leftovers for later. (As for the pie… we’re not sure you’ll need to freeze that.)
- Holiday meals are often very rich, so this is the perfect opportunity to mix up your Wisconsin-style meat and dairy-heavy rotation with sustainable vegetable alternatives. Impress your friends with a good gratin recipe that makes lesser-used vegetables such as squash, pumpkin, cauliflower, or broccoli taste *gasp* amazing.
Focus on the experience rather than consumption
- Fact: Americans throw away about 25% more solid waste between Thanksgiving and New Years.
- As college students, we can understand the delight in receiving those much-needed winter boots or heavy socks that will be so useful during midterms in February when a particularly vicious cold is going around. Simply put, we students can’t help getting a little excited at the prospect of receiving a few gifts every now and then. However, we challenge you to focus on the experiences, not gifts. The holidays are for spending time with the people you enjoy most. If you do participate in a gift exchange, ask for and give things that you know will stand the test of time!