Tips for Greening the Holidays

Did you know that one of the origins of Christmas is that European pagans worshipped trees and brought them into their homes and decorated them around the winter solstice. The winter solstice celebrates the longest night of the year and the beginning of the return of light to the northern hemisphere. Perhaps the reason Christmas has such enduring popularity around the world is that intrinsically it’s a celebration of the vitality of nature — a sign that endings are also beginnings.

Despite the ecological roots of Christmas, today’s holiday traditions result in massive energy and material consumption. The EPA estimates that between Thanksgiving and New Year average household waste volume increases by 25 percent. To help you have a more eco-friendly holiday, Here are a few tips to make your holidays greener so that future generations can enjoy this beautiful tradition:

Trees: Artificial trees can be reused, but they’re typically made with non-biodegradable metal and plastic and will sit in a landfill for centuries after being discarded. But the waste can be avoided if you pick up a used artificial tree from a thrift shop or maybe your family’s attic. If you have some land (even a small yard) you can buy a living tree (i.e., with a root ball) which you can plant outside after the holidays. A cut tree can be left in your yard or in the woods to make great shelters for birds and wildlife during the winter months. After you are finished with your tree, make sure you know which day your town picks them up so you can put them out for proper disposal.

Gifts: Have you ever received a gift that you don’t need (or like) which you ended up returning or regifting to somebody else? The average American spends $800 a year on Christmas presents. Think carefully about your gifts, and give only what your loved ones want and need. If material things are optional, consider giving tickets to shows, concerts, museums; you’ll support the arts and create memories. Consider memberships to favorite organizations, buying gift certificates, or giving homemade gifts. Inform your loved ones that instead of gifts, you’ll accept donations to charities or a contribution toward your own or your child’s education fund.

Tired of the consumerism of the holidays? Cut out stress by declaring a gift-free holiday!  Instead of exchanging gifts, organize an activity that your whole family can enjoy. Volunteer at a local charity, or exchange personal vouchers for services. Here is a website with additional green gifting ideas:

Cards: Holiday cards bring cheer to everyone, but few of them are saved and most end up in the trash. The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one less card, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper. Consider sending an electronic card. Today’s e-cards are elegant, convenient, and can incorporate music and animation in a way that traditional cards can’t. Plus you’ll save on postage. The following website offers attractive e-cards for free:

If you send paper cards, try to buy cards made from recycled paper and printed in non-toxic inks. Cards with metallic or plastic coatings can’t be recycled. Old holiday cards also work well as decorative gift tags.

Lights: Today’s LED mini lights use very little energy and look beautiful. You can even get the kind that responds to daylight to save even more energy.

Packaging: According to one source, half of the paper America consumes is used to wrap and decorate consumer products (The Recycler’s Handbook). Try buying products with minimal packaging. If you buy gifts online, reuse the boxes and packing supplies for sending gifts. Gift bags are more easy to reuse than gift wrappers. You can also use newspaper, brown paper bags, or a scarf to wrap presents. Save used wrapping paper for future presents. Avoid foil and plastic-embossed papers; they use more resources when they’re made and can’t be recycled. If you have boxes that you can use, don’t accept new gift boxes in stores.

Food: At least 28 billion pounds of edible food are wasted each year, equating to over 100 pounds per person (Use Less Stuff), much of it over the holidays. A little planning can go a long way here. Don’t buy more food than your family and guests can eat. Have storage containers ready so that leftovers can be taken home after the party. Buying local and reducing meat consumption as much as possible helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with transporting food and livestock production.

Transportation: Waiting in long lines at the mall is no longer a necessity in today’s online shopping world. Buy early to make sure things arrive on time. When you need to drive, combine errands or travel with friends to save fuel.

However you celebrate, I hope this guide helps you have a safe, enjoyable and environmentally-friendly holiday season!

With thanks to RecycleWorks Facts about the Holidays, and EPA’s Warm Tips for Greening Your Holidays.


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