18 Green Your Holiday Season with Sustainable and Realistic Tips to Reduce Waste with Eco-Friendly Event’s Romina Kwong
Romina Kwong from Eco-Friendly Events was inspired to help event organizers and business owners with their green initiatives after being a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding. In this episode, we discover from Romina what steps can be taken to make larger-scale events more environmentally friendly. We then learn how to realistically green your holiday season at home, with small actionable tips that won’t take away from the joy of the occasion. We chat about where to buy gifts, how to wrap them and find eco-friendly alternatives for the biggest waste producers of your holiday gathering. We discuss the benefits of real versus artificial trees, talk about why you may want to skip balloons for New Year’s Eve and help you reduce waste and environmental impact with practical and affordable swaps to help spread cheer, this year, sustainably.
Organizing an in-person gathering this year? Visit ecofriendlyevents.ca/links to download a free eco-friendly party planning guide to help you reduce waste and your environmental impact over and over again. If you want to learn more about Romina and her holistic, accessible and realistic approach to environmental sustainability, visit ecofriendlyevents.ca. You can follow along with Romina and catch her live on Instagram, on her mission to help event organizers and businesses be eco-friendly on Facebook or Instagram at ecofriendly.events.
Links from this episode
About the Host
I'm Jennifer Myers Chua. The Host and Producer of the Cost Of Goods Sold podcast. I'm an entrepreneur, a creative, a cookbook fanatic, mother. I have always been interested in hearing people's stories and I've been determined to change the world for as long as I can remember.
You'll find me at home in Toronto deconstructing recipes, listening to podcasts, enjoying time with friends or wandering alone through a big city. I'm excited to have you here. Let's do better, together.
[00:02:28] Jennifer Chua: The holiday season is approaching, and many of us are looking forward to gathering with our loved ones in person this year. Our holiday season celebrations do generate a lot of trash. Household waste increases more than 25% over the period of mid-November to New Year’s Eve with an extra 300,000 tons of waste heading to Canadian landfills during the last six weeks of the year. The good news is there are a lot of things you can do to reduce your environmental impact and make your holiday season a bit brighter. And this year now that extended families are gathering again, you have the opportunity to create even bigger impact.
It’s more energy efficient to prepare one meal, decorate and heat one home than it is for several. And if you gather with friends or relatives that live locally over traveling by air, your holiday can be even more environmentally friendly. The holidays mean a lot to us, especially this year. And most of us are looking forward to the spirit of the season.
So it’s about taking practical, impactful actions that makes sense. And that mean the most. I asked Romina Kwong from eco-friendly events to join us this week and walk us through some small and actionable tips to green our holiday season.
So if you choose to skip the Christmas crackers or buy gifts secondhand, swap the Turkey for a plant-based alternative, or use your decade old artificial tree for just one more year. Romina has some realistic tips that you can take into the holiday season. And by rethinking waste this holiday, you have the opportunity to get the children around you involved and gently influence your loved ones while creating new, more mindful holiday traditions.
Romina is the founder of eco-friendly events. She works with business owners and event organizers, helping ensure that events are using best practices in terms of sustainability. She holds a degree in environmental studies and economics and international development studies and is an advocate for environmental and social justice. But it wasn’t until she was a bridesmaid that she ever considered getting involved in the world of events.
[00:04:40] Romina Kwong: I ended up going back to school for event management. And while we were encouraged to volunteer a lot, just to get ourselves out there in the industry, I just realized how wasteful it was. And it sort of just like clicked in my brain that this is something that I could do there. Wasn’t anybody really leading this sort of like industry of connecting both environmental sustainability in the events industry. So. Shortly after I graduated and worked a little bit in the industry, I decided that I wanted to do something about it. And so I started eco-friendly events.
[00:05:13] Jennifer Chua: Do you remember a point in your life maybe way before this wedding, when you became interested in sustainability? Like, is there a moment that stands out in your mind?
[00:05:22] Romina Kwong: A couple of moments. So first was in grade four. My parents work at Panasonic and they had this like competition with energy star. And so every grade had their own like little project that you competed in. And so in grade four, I think we get to write maybe like a one-page document about why we cared about the environment I actually won that competition for my grade. And so it was really cool. And then from there it was just in grade 12 when I did like world studies and it was around the time where we had to decide what we wanted to study in university or what, like path we wanted to choose. And it sort of clicked again there. And so that just kind of has been sort of lifelong, but just popped up here and there
[00:06:06] Jennifer Chua: Did your parents influence this at all? Does your family have any traditions that were like sustainably minded?
[00:06:12] Romina Kwong: We were avid sorter household of like, this goes into recycling. This goes into the green bin and this goes into the garbage and just constantly like reusing or repairing things. So anytime I had holes in my clothing to this day, I still give it to my mom to repair instead of having to just buy something new, just because.
[00:06:32] Jennifer Chua: When you told your family and your friends that you were choosing events to make your impact on the world, what kind of feedback did you get at that time?
[00:06:41] Romina Kwong: It was more of like, huh, I never really thought about it that way. Or it’d be like, oh, that’s really cool, but I don’t think anybody gets it. And even now I think a lot of event planners or people in the events industry just think that I plan eco-friendly events. Whereas I really, I just want to work with event organizers and consult with them. So leave the planning to them and I’ll focus on sustainability.
[00:07:06] Jennifer Chua: When you’re working with a company or a corporation and maybe their event planner as a consultant, what are you looking for in terms of how to make their event more sustainable? Like, what is that connection that you’re making?
[00:07:19] Romina Kwong: So it obviously is dependent on when they bring me in, like what part of the planning process they’re in. So in an ideal world, if they bring me on from the very beginning, it’s figuring out where, which venue, like, where are you hosting it and what is available there? So what is their waste management look like? Do they have a recycling program. And what do they accept into those bins? What sort of energy does that building run on? Is it lead certified or is it green key certified, depending on where it is. And then from there, it’s just like, then we look at catering, so the different aspects of planning and just picking, like where can we make changes and impact that also aligns with your budget?
So also being realistic at the same time. So. Yes in an ideal world, I’d love to change everything over, but I know that’s not realistic. So what are the most important parts or points or values, I guess to the corporation, to the event planner and sort of figuring out ways that we can plan the event in alignment with those. So if it’s food waste, Okay. So let’s focus on catering and maybe we won’t focus necessarily on the venue, even though we could make a difference there.
[00:08:28] Jennifer Chua: When you began to get more into events and exploring this industry and figuring this all out, so you’ve had this experience as the bridesmaid and you began to realize what kind of waste events generate, and then went to school for it. Did you find anything surprising when you began to look at this world?
[00:08:46] Romina Kwong: I guess it just never occurred to me as like a festival attendee or just attending an event, just like behind the scenes, how much waste there actually is. And. Just how tired everyone is. Like you’ve been up or onsite since I don’t know, 6:00, 7:00 AM. And then you come onsite, do the event put on all the various fires that you need to and then at the end, everything just gets tossed. It’s dark outside. If it’s a festival and everyone just wants to go home. And so. With my lens. It just like clicked. You really do need an extra body or person that’s sort of in charge of that. Who can take a proactive approach versus reactive? Because yeah, been there sore feet need to change your shoes and nobody wants to do it. Including myself, if you’ve been there.
[00:09:34] Jennifer Chua: I can only imagine that something like a festival would be fairly complicated in this case, because I have many memories of attending many festivals. Like we live in Toronto and they’re here all the time. And just the amount of garbage leftover at the end and the water situation is usually problematic. Have you had the opportunity to work on any festivals?
[00:09:56] Romina Kwong: there was one. So with the wine and spirit festival, I think it was 2018, 2019. It’s hard to remember time these days. Um, They actually took a more proactive approach and they hired on a green team. So this was just shortly after, I finished school, so I hadn’t started my business yet. So I was part of the green team and I ended up leading the green team and it was really cool that they spoke to the waste management company to say, okay, so the cups that we’re using for all the drinks, they are compostable or biodegradable, and they can go into the green bin and we’re like, awesome. Sweet. And it wasn’t until all the vendors were like setting up and then they had all this garbage with them and we didn’t know which bin it went to, the plastic wrap, carrying like cases of juices or for example, we didn’t know if that could go into the recycling bin. Cause that was not something that was ever discussed with the waste management company, and they, at that point they had already left. And so I was just like, oh Yeah like there are so many other things. All the food vendors, all the things that they were serving food in. You see a lot of those brown containers now or like paper containers.
And we were like, I don’t know if this is lined with plastic, if it’s lined with wax, like can it go into the green bin? And so it was just at this point, a guessing game and. That’s when it really clicked. I was like, okay, like, this is something that people need to understand to really make that impact. And for me, it’s not about just for show, like I do care about what impact are we making? Are we actually doing something better for the earth, our planet and the people. Seeing that was just like, okay, there is something here, but we need to make it better.
[00:11:34] Jennifer Chua: And I find that businesses are becoming more responsive to sustainability. And I don’t know if that is because us as a society are driving that change, but how have you seen a change in business? Have you seen more people specifically looking for services like yours? Are they overall overarchingly really trying to make change in this area?
[00:11:57] Romina Kwong: I think so. I think it obviously depends on the generation. I think all the younger generations definitely care a lot more, it’s on their mind. They’re constantly trying to look for the eco-friendly or greener products. I think the disconnect is people will see all of these things they’re advertised as compostable, green and that sort of thing.
And all of these are just buzz words. Like they don’t actually know the definition and there isn’t really a definition, like, it’s not set across the board. If you say it’s green, what does that actually mean? And does it mean the same thing for your beauty products versus your, toothbrush or cleaning products?
There is no standard. And so I think that’s where the disconnect and struggle is, everyone has the best of intentions, but they’ve lack the knowledge both as a business, who’s trying to be more eco-friendly, but then also as a consumer as well, because they don’t totally understand the nuances.
[00:12:51] Jennifer Chua: And I think green, and compostable and biodegradable, like these are words that all of us have heard now. We all have kind of an understanding of what they mean, but what about carbon neutral? I’ve been hearing carbon neutral more and more. And even in terms of events, can you explain to me what that means? or what’s going on with carbon neutrality?
[00:13:11] Romina Kwong: It is becoming a trend it’s a little bit green-washing. There is a body that does certify things as carbon neutral, and they have a specific definition, to be carbon neutral is basically like the amount of carbon you’re admitting. You’re offsetting so that it becomes like zero, essentially. And for me personally, and my viewpoint, I think it’s a bit of green-washing because. If I’m emitting like a ton of carbon emissions and I’m then offsetting it. You’re not reducing anything. So you’re not necessarily making it better.
Same thing with carbon offsetting, you’re investing in maybe green technology, like a wind farm or solar panels. And yes, you are investing in a different type of technology that will help, but it’s not taking that carbon out of the atmosphere. And so when you hear like Elon Musk and other people in the world talking about carbon capture. That’s what they’re talking about is like taking the carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it back either into the ground or wherever and storing it. All of that is complicated. Um, But not at the same time.
[00:14:18] Jennifer Chua: What are some of the ways that we can reduce waste and green our holidays at home this year?
[00:14:24] Romina Kwong: There’s this website and tool that I love, it’s called the guest-imator. And you can input the amount of people, um, that are attending. What kind of eater are they, are they a light eater or a heavy eater, like average? And it’ll tell you how much exactly that You need. you can even account for like a couple of leftover meals or no leftovers, and then that way you’re significantly reducing the amount of food waste you might potentially have, or just like leftovers that you don’t want to continuously eat for weeks on end. So that’s one. Second, at least in my family, we gather so much and we have so many people that were never really using disposables, which is nice. But if you are that household that maybe only has like six sets, think about renting or think about asking family members to just bring their own.
I know it’s kind of like weird, but that’s where it starts is that shift in mindset to be like, Hey, we would love to just reduce the amount of waste. Do you mind bringing the set of plates for your own family? Like just your immediate family. It’s not like lugging a bunch over and, making sure you do have the proper bins at home and you are sorting and recycling and composting if you have that in your area. And also looking up what can and cannot be accepted into those bins as well. So that’s, what’s important. Just because it’s certified compostable doesn’t mean that the municipality or waste management company that serves your area will accept it. So like, for example, in the city of Toronto, all of those compostable materials, bamboo things, and all of that, They don’t accept in the green bin. So at the end of the day, you do have to throw it in the trash. So that’s something to be mindful of.
And then with decorations, is, are you reusing your decorations from years past or are you constantly buying new ones or can you invest may be in something that’s a little bit more expensive than you can reuse over and over again? Or maybe you just forgo the decorations, maybe you don’t need them. It really, really depends. And so that’s just a few key areas. I think that we can all think about reducing environmental impact.
[00:16:29] Jennifer Chua: So next weekend, we will be with my family, going to select our Christmas tree for the year. I was wondering if you had any input on whether an artificial tree is a better choice than a natural tree, or how do you feel about trees?
[00:16:42] Romina Kwong: It really just goes back down to something called the life cycle assessment that they do for products. And so it really depends on how long you’re going to be able to reuse that, um, fake tree. And you have to do that assessment and figure out which one lasts longer. From what I’ve read, the natural tree is better because most people don’t keep the fake one long enough for it to be worth it. So, um, that’s my 2 cents on that topic with regards to the tree. Like I know we have an artificial one, but we’ve been using it for years and years since I was a child. And so for us, it was just, my mom just didn’t want to deal with the hassle of having a real one. So I’ve never had a real one, which is, um, something that I might look into changing what I felt when I’m out on my own.
[00:17:29] Jennifer Chua: I will look into the product life cycle of the artificial tree. But yeah, I think it was 20 years.
[00:17:35] Romina Kwong: Yeah. It was like 15 Or 20 years. Yeah, we’ll definitely have to look it up. but I think if something like that, where if you, most people don’t keep it that long. So then it negates it being better than the real tree.
[00:17:47] Jennifer Chua: What kind of sustainable swaps can we make when considering Christmas tree decor?
[00:17:52] Romina Kwong: There’s a lot of Pinterest ideas of using like dried fruit and that sort of thing, which I think is cool. Cause then at the end of the day, yes, you can put it into your green bin. At the same time, I’ve heard people argue that while you’re just wasting fruit, which I’m like, okay, like it’s a bit of both. And so again, it comes back down to the same sort of conversation we had about the tree. How long are those decorations going to last you, are you going to keep reusing them? Or does the natural actually work better? I’m all about really what works for your lifestyle? Are you in a house? Do you have a storage locker? Can you store these things? And if you can’t then go with the natural. And if you can, amazing. Then keep reusing it for as long as you can . As a kid, we had these candy canes on our tree for years and years. Like nobody ate them, but it was just something that we kept and just kept reusing. It’s just figuring out what works for you. So not necessarily swapping everything out, all of a sudden, it’s just, what do you have? Can you continue using it and not buy new things?
[00:18:53] Jennifer Chua: I mean, my mom used to do that. Change up the Christmas tree theme every couple of years.
[00:18:58] Romina Kwong: Which is nice aesthetically, but not so much for the environment. If you’re tossing everything out.
[00:19:04] Jennifer Chua: This is one area too, where we like to keep traditions and joy. Like if you, if you do purchase an ornament from, I don’t know, a big box store or something, but it’s meaningful to you and you remember what year this was and it’s impactful on your life. That’s wonderful. But you’re just suggesting not to, do a complete tree decor overhaul every single year. Right.
[00:19:27] Romina Kwong: exactly, exactly. Use what you have. If things get broken, like if a pet bumps into the tree or your cat climbs a tree and things get broken, obviously after a while you only have so many ornaments that are left. So yes, if you are buying new ones and you’re going to keep them in good condition. Then yes. But Yeah also those natural swaps are a good idea as well. It really just depends. I won’t do it. It’s just too much effort for me. And I know that. And so you have to figure out yeah. What works for you, what works for your holidays? Cause it’s already stressful enough.
[00:20:00] Jennifer Chua: And our tradition around Christmas cards, sustainably speaking. What are some swaps we should make there? Should we be going to e-cards? Should we still be doing the glossy family photo cards and sending those out? What do you think we should do with cards this year?
[00:20:16] Romina Kwong: I think it really depends if you are doing the ones with the photographs, digital is a little bit better, but I don’t know if it’s for your grandmother who posts it on her fridge every year. Maybe send her a physical one. And I think you can always do a combination. I think it depends. For the older folks who are in your family. Maybe they want the physical because that’s what they’re used to. So send them the physical. And then maybe all your cousins and siblings, you can just send them an electronic one because they’re okay with that. They’re like, great. We’ll just like put it in an album or one of those like digital picture frames.
Figure out always that work and then just mixing and matching. Like you don’t have to do one or the other. It’s not an all or nothing. And that’s never, my approach. It’s just, maybe you try a couple of electronic. Maybe it’s two people you send electronic cards to, and then everybody else gets a physical one or vice versa
[00:21:09] Jennifer Chua: Then when you sit down to actually wrap all of those presents that we have acquired , are there some pretty easy, sustainable swaps that we can make when it comes to wrapping our gifts?
[00:21:19] Romina Kwong: I’ve started using like the brown craft paper. If you’re ordering anything online, starting now start saving those boxes and just reusing them. I know last year, because our family gathering for Christmas was a lot smaller. Nobody wrapped gifts in like proper things, they just like use newspaper, just like put it in a box and like tied some string around it. Because they knew that I wouldn’t want wrapping paper. So. Things like that, Or is there like a gift bag you can reuse, or wrapping it using like a scarf that you’re also gifting to them? Or maybe it’s like a tea towel and stuff like that.
Again, trying to be creative and you don’t have to do it for all of them. I know, like for kids, especially the joy of actually like ripping open a present is part, is part of it. And so, yeah, maybe it’s using newspaper or it’s using that craft paper so that you can recycle it at the end of it.
[00:22:13] Jennifer Chua: it comes to gifting or sustainable giving, really have you come across any really great gift ideas that we could use this year when it comes to looking how to maybe reduce our carbon footprint or make our gifting strategy more eco-friendly?
[00:22:30] Romina Kwong: Gifting services or just like helping out a friend. I actually saw a post recently on Instagram that made me rethink some things, as well is, maybe your friend doesn’t need, I don’t know a thing, like a physical item, but they need, they want a night off. And so you can babysit their kids for a night.
[00:22:47] Jennifer Chua: can I just interrupt and say that it’s the best gift
[00:22:49] Romina Kwong: Yes. Yeah, I’m happy to babysit Jennifer.
Maybe it’s a gift card, cause there’ve been saving up to buy something that they, they really needed. Think acts of service, when you think of like, the five love languages acts of service is what can you do for the person that will actually be such a huge help, that won’t cost you too much money, maybe a bit of your time. And you’re not just giving stuff for them to just pile on in their house.
[00:23:19] Jennifer Chua: I’ve received some really interesting gifts lately. And one of them was a box of frozen scones. So someone had taken the time to make scones in various flavours and then froze them. And then I get to put them in my freezer and then, bake on a whim as I feel like I would like one. And that is a really beautiful gift idea that is not coming from a store it’s really heartfelt and really, there was no plastic involved in the actual packaging and gifting it to me.
[00:23:49] Romina Kwong: Yes. Yes. And gift cards. I know they’re not the nicest or whatever, but, um, like I love that I get an electronic gift card. It just sits in my inbox and then I delete it once I use it. And instead of having now this plastic card and it’s like, what am I going to do with it after I scanned it. Right. I think the services are the best. So it’s like maybe it’s buying somebody a gift card to their favourite salon or the salon they go to or where they can get their hair and makeup done and maybe their nails done and things that people actually use or even grocery gift cards. I think those are the best because everybody needs to buy groceries and those are the best because it’s just useful. I’m the type of gift-giver that likes to find things that are unique, but also useful to the person that they’ll actually use rather than just be like, oh, thank you and then just set it aside. Are the most wasteful.
[00:24:42] Jennifer Chua: I think when it comes to children’s toys as a business owner, I’m looking to stock my shelves with multipurpose toys that are battery free, that are ethically made, all of those things. But as a parent, I am very much going to Facebook marketplace and Kijiji and going for used options for toys and because my child is used to it, she really doesn’t mind. She’s still asking for this plastic toy inside a plastic toy with batteries that I am resisting very hard this year. But overall, what do you think about buying used gifts or upcycling gifts for the holidays?
[00:25:26] Romina Kwong: I love that idea, especially with sometimes with toys, especially where it’s like, they want the thing, cause they’ve seen it on TV. And then it’s like, after a few months you don’t want that toy anymore or they kind of moved on. And so I think getting things second hand, whether it is from Facebook marketplace, which not everybody loves, it’s not the best experience all the time, but it is a good option, or going to your local value village or Goodwill or secondhand or thrift store, where you can buy things second hand, or is there anybody in your family? With us, for example, there’s a lot of female cousins and so all the clothes continuously get like moved around and same thing with toys. And so, I think that’s a great idea. I think it’s just, you need to shift that mindset for people to not think it’s weird. Because you’re like, why would I give somebody something used? Well, do they really need it new? Do they need all that plastic? And Packaging with it, or can you just wrap it nicely in a scarf? And that’s also how they carry around that set of toys or that set of whatever it is you’re gifting.
[00:26:31] Jennifer Chua: Are we as a society making shifts there, like, do you think this is becoming more accepted?
[00:26:37] Romina Kwong: I think for certain things we’re getting there. So for clothing, for example, like thrifting is now trendy, which I’m not mad about because it is a good thing, but, I think we still have a long ways to go with like gifting and things like that.
[00:26:51] Jennifer Chua: And what about regifting?
[00:26:52] Romina Kwong: I don’t have a problem with that. I just, I feel like if it’s going to be a better use for somebody else, I think again, it’s that shift in culture and with all of us if you’re going to be offended that somebody regifts something… as long as it’s not regifted back to the same person, I think you’re good. I think you’re ok. If we’re more thoughtful and purposeful with the gifts to begin with, then we wouldn’t necessarily have the regifting problem or issue to begin with. Right. Like if you think more carefully about it, okay. So, and so needs this, or maybe buy something edible, then that way, you know, it’s consumed and somebody will eat it. And that’s such a great idea. I think even like at weddings for the party favours, like just give them a cookie with your name on it or something. Cause then somebody will eat it, whether it’s that person or somebody in their family. And so, Yeah. edible gifts.
[00:27:44] Jennifer Chua: Favors is a really big one, I think, in terms of waste, any kind of party favours.
[00:27:50] Romina Kwong: all those loot bags from kids’ birthday party.
[00:27:53] Jennifer Chua: In episode one of this podcast, we had a conversation with Rebecca Saha from tiny toy company and she has a reloot bag. So she collects toy debris and toy garbage, and then creates these loot bags with upcycled toys. It’s Amazing.
So you’ve chucking your tree down and you’ve lovingly stored all of your ornaments that maybe you bought at the local Christmas fair. You’ve put those in your basement. You’re packing up your tree. So Every year we trim the branches off and put it in the backyard and we drill holes in it. So the bugs can live in it. And then in spring, we compost it and I’ve actually seen some like Christmas tree bits, put in the ravine, which I don’t know if it was a good idea, but I think it’s better than just checking it at the end of the season. Do you have any comments what to do after we’re done our trees?
[00:28:47] Romina Kwong: I think that’s a great idea. Again, I think it depends on where you live. Like I’m in the heart and core of Toronto where there isn’t a ton of greenery. And so I think, you need to pick and choose what works and what doesn’t. So for you, Jennifer, it works because where you live has a ravine. And so maybe yeah, you can leave it outside in your backyard. And for those people who don’t, then you can’t. I don’t have a huge, like thought on it. I think if you figure out what the waste is, if the city, like what they do with it, with their trees, like call them and ask them, or email them and see like, what is it that you do with it? And figuring out that I think is always good, a good option as well as like, where does it actually end up? I think, yeah, figuring out where it ends up in if there is an alternative. Maybe it is cutting it up and putting it out in the back, or maybe you use it as firewood. Or like kindling, it depends. When you’re rethinking things in events, it’s what do you care about and how can you reduce where it aligns.
[00:29:47] Jennifer Chua: I think city dwellers too. We have a different issue there. In that, for example, I’ve heard use potted trees, but then where are you going to plant them afterwards? If we live in this urban environment, we have to get a permit to plant a tree. Where are we going to plant it afterwards? And then if you live in a condo, for example, might be a better choice to go for an artificial tree, because once you then have to wrap the tree in plastic at the end and bring it down the elevator. Now you’re putting out a big, huge plastic bag every year as well. Maybe it would be worth going on Facebook marketplace or Kijiji or whatever, and finding one of those trees that someone’s getting rid of that’s artificial but still perfectly good for use.
[00:30:32] Romina Kwong: Or if you’re buying it new, you’re keeping it for that 15, 20 years and, keeping it the full life cycle. I think in my condo specifically, they don’t even allow, the natural trees like you have to go with artificial. So something to keep in mind as well. It’s just, yeah, you have to adapt to where it is you reside.
[00:30:50] Jennifer Chua: One of the things that I think of when I think of Christmas is that movie, Christmas vacation with the Griswold family and the dad completely blanketing the entire house in Christmas lights. And a lot of us have switched to led lights. But what do you think about holiday lighting? Is that impactful on the environment?
[00:31:10] Romina Kwong: Something that helps is putting a timer on those plugs or having it on a smart plug and where you can set a timer. So maybe it’s on for only a few hours at night, and then it shuts off. But it’s also, thinking about more of like a fire hazard too, is just don’t necessarily want to maybe leave it on all night. Now that most people already have led lights. It’s like, that’s great. And that’s a huge switch, just even like from an economic standpoint, like, does your electricity bill go up, significantly during the holidays? Make it a game. I like to make it a game to try and keep our bill as low as we can. And so figuring out ways. Either set it on a timer or maybe only during certain days, um, and figuring out a schedule that works
[00:31:53] Jennifer Chua: You mentioned before the guestimator, which I think is absolutely brilliant, but when it comes to holiday meals, I can just imagine the amount of waste that is generated in every home. Right. Do you have any tips on how to reduce our waste when it comes to actual food waste over the holidays?
[00:32:11] Romina Kwong: yeah. So figuring out how many people you’re actually serving using that tool as a good, just gives you a rough idea of how much you actually need. Not making the whole bag of potatoes. For example, maybe you make like half, I don’t know. If there are any leftovers that is actually consuming it, give it away. I know with my one aunt, whenever we gathered at her house, she puts all the leftover food in Tupperware containers and sends it home with every person. So first it’s figuring out, like, what are you going to make? And it starts really from the very beginning from the prep is at the grocery store. Do you need all of those things? How many people are actually coming over? Will they eat everything or are you just making it just so you have a nice spread for Instagram. So it’s rethinking that from the very beginning and then cooking and then storing the food properly as well.
So. Not leaving it out for hours and hours, and then it goes bad and then you can’t eat it. Another thing you can probably do is actually just donate the food. Can you pack it up? Can you give it to people in shelters or can you give it to, people who are unhoused, for example, in the city of Toronto, we have so many, unfortunately at this time? And so can you gift them things that from the leftovers or even on Christmas day Christmas eve.
[00:33:26] Jennifer Chua: So once you’ve packed up your tree and we’re looking forward to New Year’s Eve, I have some specific thoughts on balloons and glitter. And I was wondering if you could walk us through how sustainable balloons and glitter are, and maybe what our choices are. If we want to make better choices in that area.
[00:33:44] Romina Kwong: They aren’t they aren’t sustainable or green, especially the latex ones. Once you use them, that’s it like they have to go in the garbage, there is no other alternative. With the foil balloons. You can reuse them, you can release the air, reuse it. So I’ve actually had some friends, like message me, cause I’ve liked their photo on Instagram. They’re like, it’s been reused. Like we’ve reused these numbers and it’s like, okay, good to know. I’m not trying to guilt-trip you. But, it’s just funny that they know that people think of that. So, if you can use the foil options and you know, you’re, going to reuse them. I’ve seen people give them away or trade them on like buns or pals on Facebook. So those groups, where people are trading. Good for good. So you can look into that and specifically for like birthdays. Once you’re done with like those big celebrations, you can give them away and reuse them. So that’s one.
With the glitter, I would say try to just avoid like that. Those are tiny pieces of plastic, that we don’t necessarily think about. We just think it’s fun. I mean, I know for my mom and I’m sure other mothers don’t love the glitter clean up. So I think for both reasons, maybe not use them. I know there’s this company called botanical paperworks based out of Winnipeg and they do see paper and they have actually seed confetti. So they embed wildflower seeds into theirs. That is local to Canada and you can actually plant them afterwards. So I’ve had some friends, like plant them in like a small pot and just see them grow. They will, degrade over time and just in natural air and water or like natural elements. So I think that’s an option. Fireworks and sparklers are not the greatest. You can’t totally say no to everything. Just like, that’s my approach with it. It’s like you have to be a little bit realistic.
[00:35:32] Jennifer Chua: And what about biodegradable balloons? I’ve seen these everywhere. Can you talk a little bit about those?
[00:35:37] Romina Kwong: That is just a whole lot of greenwashing cause technically anything and everything is biodegradable. The headphones that we’re wearing right now are biodegradable. They will degrade over time. But that doesn’t mean that it’s good. Depending on what the object is or whatever it is, it can potentially leach chemicals back into the groundwater, into our earth.
And so it really depends on what they’re made of. So I’ve seen them as well. I think if you can avoid them, avoid them And use the foil ones, if you can reuse them for as long as possible, or just avoid them all together.
[00:36:10] Jennifer Chua: And then I guess choose champagne or sparkling wine from local producers. If you can.
[00:36:17] Romina Kwong: well, champagne is only technically champagne if it comes from the area of France, that champagne. So, maybe if you don’t live in that area, um, and you’re trying to stay local. Yeah. Find something that’s sparkling, that’s local. There’s a ton of wineries, especially in the greater Toronto area. If you’re close to Niagara, like there are so many wineries out there that use like wind power or solar panels. I think it’s biodynamic wines. I think that’s the word. Where they’re yeah. Trying to be as sustainable as possible in all aspects of the wine production process. And so looking that up as well, or just supporting local where it’s not travelling as far, especially in a glass bottle.
[00:36:57] Jennifer Chua: Our parties at home, why are making our events and our parties more sustainable, so important.
[00:37:03] Romina Kwong: It’s an aspect of life, right? Like we want to celebrate lives. You want to celebrate special occasions and anniversaries and if you’re going to be eco-friendly in every other aspect, why not events. Especially with the large-scale productions, like weddings and festivals, where it’s potentially only once in a lifetime or once a year, it has such a huge impact.
Like in those three days that a structure Is erected in, Yonge & Dundas square, or like another park. There’s so much that goes into it. And then so much that gets disposed of. And so that still has an impact because events are not going away. Especially now. I don’t want to say the pandemic is over, but it’s like coming slowly to an end? And we’re getting back to some sort of normalcy events are coming right back. There are so many events that are coming back in 2022 for in-person. You’ve seen a few of them now, a lot of like vendor markets are back and it makes me so hopeful and so happy, but it’s a part of life. And if you’re going to be eco-friendly in other parts, why not this as well?
[00:38:05] Jennifer Chua: And all of these swaps. All of these are like small tips. I can only imagine that these are also saving you financial costs. They’re saving you money as well. Right?
[00:38:16] Romina Kwong: Definitely. So again, not always. And it’s not necessarily a misconception because yes. Some things will cost more, but other things don’t. Like if you borrowed something, what is that costing you? Maybe a bit of gas to go get it, which you would have spent anyway to go to the store. So in some ways, it is saving you money. If you’re asking relatives to bring their own dishes to your house, that’s dishwashing you don’t have to do. You’re saving the waste that you’re tossing out into the trash and you’re not purchasing anything.
I think just resetting and reshifting or shifting your mindset is asking yourself, always, do you need this? Do you need to buy this first and foremost? And then can you get it Second hand, or can you borrow it or can you like rent it from somewhere? That way sort of like going into that circular economy where you’re reusing things and keeping things in use rather than using it and then disposing of it. And then think of like recycling and organics and compostable as sort of your last resort. Can you reduce first, if you can’t get it? Are there ways that you can get it where you’re borrowing it and renting it? So it’s secondhand?
[00:39:33] Jennifer Chua: so with all of this that you’ve learned from working in events and seeing how people are responding to these ideas, are you hopeful for the future?
[00:39:42] Romina Kwong: I am hopeful. I think the pandemic really made us all slow down and rethink how we are living. and I think that’s the most important part. And where it starts is we can’t continue living the way we’ve always been living. And this pandemic has really shown all of us that.
[00:39:59] Jennifer Chua: And we’re craving that connection and really wanting to connect with our loved ones in person again,
[00:40:04] Romina Kwong: Yeah,
[00:40:05] Jennifer Chua: making some of these swaps can only bring us to a brighter future.
[00:40:10] Romina Kwong: So we actually have a planet to live on and continue gathering together.
[00:40:13] Jennifer Chua: Organizing an in-person gathering this year? Visit ecofriendlyevents.ca/links to download a free eco-friendly party planning guide to help you reduce waste and your environmental impact over and over again. If you want to learn more about Romina and her holistic, accessible and realistic approach to environmental sustainability, visit ecofriendlyevents.ca. You can follow along with Romina and catch her live on Instagram, on her mission to help event organizers and businesses be eco-friendly on Facebook or Instagram at ecofriendly.events.