It's easy being green: How to be more eco-friendly during these holidays

When you think of a classic Kiwi summer, you think of long, hot days, family trips to the beach, a sizzling barbeque and of course, bagging a bargain on Boxing Day.

It's a jam-packed period of the year and with so much to think about, we often forget to consider the impact our celebrations may have on the planet.

Whether it's how we get around, what we eat, or how we spend our days off, there is a raft of ways we can be more environmentally-friendly this summer.

Here are some easy ideas on ways to lessen that footprint:

Transport:

Sadly, much of our carbon footprint comes from how we get around. If you're lucky enough to live near the beach, take the opportunity to spend time under the sun and walk or bike there. That will also save you having to waste your valuable relaxation time driving around for a carpark. 

But for most of us not living a stone's throw from the water, other options are needed. If you and your mates are meeting at an event or the beach, consider whether you can carpool rather than taking individual vehicles. Not only does that reduce emissions, but it will stop congestion - especially in small beach towns. 

If you're in the city, public transport is likely available and able to drop you off at the beachfront or pool. For a fraction of the price of using a ride-sharing company, buses and trains will take you to various landmarks - enough to keep you busy for hours. It's also possible you will end up at an event you never knew was on.

Sophie Heighway manages Auckland Council's education and community climate action team and told Newshub she would encourage people to stay local this summer and not head away on carbon-emitting flights. 

"People are often really surprised by the impact of their flights… they do all these really great things in their lives and then take one flight."

For example, if you're in Auckland, she says there are numerous beaches to relax at, several mountains to climb, and countless walks - all in your backyard.

It's easy being green: How to be more eco-friendly during these holidays
Photo credit: Newshub.

Food and eating out:

With so much going on over the holidays, the last thing people want to do is think of what to have for dinner every night. Planning your meals ahead will save time and also likely help reduce waste as you will know when you are using the food your purchase.

Instead of spending your time in a busy, noisy supermarket, head along to a local market and buy fresh, organic produce. That way you'll know you are getting food which hasn't been  shipped over to New Zealand on emission-producing planes and boats. This also helps local business owners.

Many people are now taking up veganism, so make sure you have vegan options at your Christmas and New Years parties. Cutting down on meat could also be an idea for the extra-committed.

"We are not saying don't eat meat, we're just saying treat [red meat] as a treat food and buy local and seasonal… if we buy things local [and] in season, a lot less energy goes into getting stuff to us," said Heighway.

If you do have to go to the supermarket, remember to take your reusable bags. Some stores also allow you to take containers to get your meat or salad in, instead of using the flimsy containers supermarkets provide.

Speaking of flimsy plastic things, most restaurants and cafes have now rid their stores of plastic straws and instead provide metal or paper versions. If they don't, consider whether you really need one. 

It's easy being green: How to be more eco-friendly during these holidays
Photo credit: File.

Activities:

Staying local doesn't mean you can't have fun. Main centres around the country will be hosting events which are often free or cheap to attend. The best place to keep track of those is at EventFinda.co.nz. If you're at home, think of some environmentally-friendly activities you can get up to. What about starting a compost, or planting a new garden? Children may be interested in learning new skills like cooking.

If you're off for a day at the beach, consider what you are taking along. Don't take tonnes of plastic or wrapped food as you'll need to make sure you take your waste away with you. Many families also use old boogie boards and water toys made of plastic or polystyrene. Make sure these don't break up or get lost in the surf.

Local libraries often also host a range of activities. In Auckland, many have a specific focus on the environment and teaching communities how to be sustainable. Nicholas Monks, a programme and events librarian at Glenfield library, told Newshub that he has seen a spike in interest in the environment recently among library goers. 

"The library space can be actively used for engaging a wider audience in conservation efforts happening throughout the region," he said.

"I think libraries provide a really good channel for inspiring and educating ratepayers on how to live in ways that minimise environmental damage."

Beyond providing literature about the environment, libraries also feature seed exchanges, meetings by groups like the Compost Collective, and support for organisations like the Kaipatiki Project. Many of the children's activities also have an environmental element to them. There might even be a worm farm! 

Whether an event is being hosted or not, libraries often also have pamphlets and information packs about sustainability groups in the community. 

Whangamata.
Whangamata. Photo credit: File.

One way of tracking how green you are is with FutureFit, an interactive website developed by the Wellington City Council and Auckland Council. After answering a series of questions, it allows users to see their carbon footprint and how much they've saved through various activities.

Heighway, who helped develop FutureFit, says the website is about making being green manageable. 

"FutureFit is designed to take away that overwhelming factor of all the things that people talk about that you need or have to be doing all the time and it tries to widdle it down… to two or three things that you can do that will make a real difference but are relevant to your lifestyle," she said.

More than 2800 people nationwide use the site, and have saved about 347,000 kgs of carbon - the same as driving from Auckland to Wellington in a medium-sized petrol car 2524 times.

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