It’s estimated that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans generate one million tons of waste a week. Holiday gift giving and decorating doesn’t have to sacrifice the environment – with some creative green thinking and action, you can have a festive holiday that is good for the planet, and maybe even your pocketbook!
Here are Green Living Consulting’s tips for a Green Holiday:
Keep up the 3 R’s Through the Holidays
More than 8,000 tons of wrapping paper are used for presents – the equivalent of 50,000 trees. Try these eco-practices to reduce waste:
- Wrap gifts with paper that is made from recycled content or recyclable. I often use the off-white paper included in shipments and decorate using colored ribbon or stamps. Comic strips from the newspaper also make great wrapping paper.
- Buy gifts with minimal packaging and wrap in a reusable bag.
- Recycle wrapping and tissue paper, bags, and boxes after the gift unveiling is over.
- Send e-cards instead of buying and mailing holiday cards or buy cards made from recycled paper. Around 744 million holiday cards are sent each holiday season. If all these were made from recycled paper, it would help to save the equivalent of 248,000 trees!
Greener Tree Options
- The majority of Christmas trees are dumped in landfills every year, yet there are many uses for discarded trees. Old Christmas trees can be ground up and used for mulch. Some can be replanted and used for increased stabilization near waterways, preventing beach erosion, or fishing reefs. You can also plant your tree in your winter garden as decoration or as a bird feeder.
- You can buy plastic trees that you can reuse every year, but these trees often end up discarded after about 6 years, ending up in landfills. They also contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which produces cancer-causing dioxins during its manufacture and incineration.
- The ideal choice for a truly green tree is to buy a potted Christmas tree, available at farmer’s markets, garden centers, and some tree farms. After you’ve enjoyed it, you can celebrate the New Year by planting it outdoors or donate it to your local parks department. Visit earth911.org to find out where to recycle your tree.
Energy Efficient Holiday Lights
Indoor LED (light emitting diode) holiday lights run on about 1/10th of the energy of conventional lights. Since they produce no heat, they don’t present a fire risk, making them green and safe!
- Decorating your home with LED lights could reduce holiday lighting energy use by up to 95%. A typical 50-bulb incandescent strand of lights uses 250 watts and an equivalent 70-bulb LED strand uses only three watts. For a house that operates holiday lights for six hours a day through the month of December, with an energy price of 8.27 cents per kilowatt hour, six strands of incandescent holiday lights would cost over $23 to power versus a mere 28 cents for LEDs. By replacing the incandescent strands with LEDs, it would save you $22.79 in energy costs for the month.
- For outdoor decorating, you can buy Solar LED lights that charge by daylight and automatically turn on from dusk until dawn.
- Don’t forget to always turn your lights off before going to bed at night!
Eco-friendly Ornament Options
- Buy Fair Trade Federation-certified ornaments that are lead-free and made from materials such as silk, wood, or gourds.
- Make your own ornaments out of gingerbread cookies, prior year’s Christmas cards, origami patterns, ribbons, and the old-time favorites like popcorn-and-cranberry garland.
Electronics and Batteries
If you receive electronic goods this season, don’t throw your old ones away. Dispose of them properly by:
- Returning old cell phones to your cell phone provide (many take them back and donate them to community organizations, battered women’s shelters, etc)
- Sell them at YouRenew.com and make money if they are still working or mail it to them anyway and they will recycle or dispose of properly.
- If you are buying toys or electrical goods that need batteries, buy rechargeable ones, then add a battery charger to your shopping list. Make sure to recycle those old batteries instead of tossing them in the trash (libraries often take old batteries or go to earth911.org for disposal locations near you!).
Shopping and Gift-Buying
Around 125,000 tons of plastic packaging are thrown away over the holiday season.
- Take your own reusable shopping bags when you do your shopping.
Get Green Gifts for Your Family and Friends
for some gifts that give back…
- Alternative Gifts International – support global humanitarian causes that will gladly accept a holiday donation in the name of a loved one. www.altgifts.org
- Tom’s Shoes – for every pair purchased Tom gives a pair of shoes to a child in need. www.tomsshoes.com
- Better World Books – Collects and sells books online to fund literacy initiatives worldwide. www.betterworld.com
New sweaters, scarves, jeans – all the items on your fashion wishlist were delivered by Santa and now you need room in your closet. If you do a clean-out, be sure to donate your old clothes to someone in need through your local church, Goodwill, or shelter. You might even check with a second-hand shop to see if they’ll consign or buy you used clothing. It would be new to someone else and give you a little extra $green$ in your pocket for your good green acts!
Don’t forget to make your New Year’s resolution to live greener in 2010!
Author: Adrienne Spahr, Founder of Green Living Consulting – eco-practices for businesses, organizations, and households. Contact: