Seven Tips for a “Greener” Holiday

Pile of gifts

Seven Tips for a “Greener” Holiday

By Margaret Southern

The holidays always conjure up a variety of sensory images. For glass-half-full people, maybe you think about the warmth of a crackling fire, the sounds of carolers singing in harmony or the smells of fresh pine. But if you have as much eco-guilt as I do, you might picture piles of discarded wrapping paper, holiday cards being thrown into trash cans or not-quite-right gifts being shoved into closets (not to mention the crowded malls, ruined diets and cold weather)!

Hopefully you fall on the glass-half-full side, but we could all stand to make our holidays as eco-friendly as possible. So, here are seven easy tips to help make the season just a little greener.

1. Receive less 

We all know it’s better to give than to receive – maybe that’s why it’s hard to convince some people not to give you any gifts. And you certainly don’t want to be the person who shows up at the family gathering empty-handed when gifts are being exchanged. The best way to get around this is to get everyone to agree on a system before the shopping season begins. Enlist some like-minded relatives to start a Secret Santa tradition – one gift given and received by everyone. And if that doesn’t work, ask for donations to your favorite charity.

2. Give wisely 

We all want to give great gifts – and we can also give responsible ones. That’s what Green Gift Monday is all about. If you are crafty, trying making most of your gifts this year. If you’re not (like me!), try my favorite eco-friendly gift tip: Give an experience. I hate the thought of giving someone something that would just end up as clutter. I like to give spa gift certificates, sporting event or concert tickets or an invitation to dinner on me.

3. Wrap right

According the Clean Air Council, an additional 5 million tons of waste is generated during the holidays, 4 million tons of which is wrapping paper and shopping bags. When wrapping gifts, consider using an alternative to traditional wrapping paper: the Sunday comics, magazine pages, old maps, calendar pages (you probably already have one with 11 of the months to spare!) or pieces of fabric. Even store-bought gift bags are better than paper, since they can be used again and again.

4. Switch to e-cards.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans send 1.9 BILLION Christmas cards each year. Everyone loves getting mail from friends and family, but your wishes for holiday cheer and that annual newsletter will probably be just as well-received in an inbox rather than a mailbox. And for the cards you receive, try turning last year’s cards into this year’s gift tags.

5. Spend some time in nature.
Here in Washington, it’s usually pretty cold around the holidays. But that’s no excuse to not spend some time outdoors. Getting some fresh air can help clear your head, burn off some cookie calories and can be a fun and free way for families to spend time together.  Try going for a hike on a local preserve, taking your kids on a Treasure Hunt or giving winter bird-watching a try.

6. Cut the power bill.

Choosing LED lights to line your house or wrap around your tree can make a big dent in carbon emissions and energy costs. According to the Electric Power Research Institute, if all the seasonal mini-lights in the United States were switched from standard incandescent bulbs to LEDs, the energy savings would exceed $250 million and carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 400,000 tons. Because LEDs last about 10 times longer, the lights your child sees as an infant could be the same ones he’s helping to hang up as a teenager. And an investment in a light timer will help to make sure you aren’t sending holiday cheer to a fast-asleep neighborhood at 3 a.m.

7. Buy a tree.

In the debate over whether real or fake Christmas trees are better for the environment, Conservancy Climate Adaptation Strategy Leader Frank Lowenstein comes down on the side of real. Lowenstein says that fake trees are made from PVC, which requires a ton of electricity to produce, and that 85% of fake trees sold in the U.S. are shipped from China. On the other hand, real trees absorb carbon from the air while they are growing, and new trees are quickly replanted for each one cut down. So if you plan to use a tree to bring some holiday cheer into your living room, make it a real one.

So, tell us: How do you plan to make your holiday season a little greener?


(Image source: thehoneybunny/Flickr through a Creative Commons license)

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  1. I’m going to try to avoid shipping anything this year. Instead of paying extra to ship gifts to the people I won’t be seeing this holiday season, I’m planning to call a local store/restaurant in the cities where they live, purchase a gift certificate over the phone, and then let the recipients know via ecard– or better yet, an online chat. I’ve done this in the past for birthdays, anniversaries, etc., and it’s always worked smoothly and met with much pleasure

  2. While I agree with much of what you are saying, I have to disagree with your argument against the artificial tree. A natural tree has to be cut down every year, requiring a trip by car to fetch it. You waste gas and pollute the air in a way I’m not sure offsets the good the tree is doing while growing.
    Furthermore, my artificial tree does not have to be replaced every year. I’ve owned and carefully stored mine for 20 years now! That saved me 20 trips to a tree farm!
    As for the cards, one of my favorite traditions! Some people I hear from only once a year. I make cards part of my decorations by taping them to the door. I enjoy them every time I walk by, for a whole month! No e card will ever replace that. I dislike ecards!
    I give my kids and grandkids the gift of a trip to a favorite location, National Park, or theater. Hate those toys from China! By giving local gift certificates I keep America working instead of supporting China’s economy!

  3. your idea of last year’s cards being this years gift tags…I LOVE it! I think one way to green your holiday is to give what people actually need. I know this is a little less fun but the truth is if you have a loved one who needs a new pair of jeans…why not gift them? You still have the fun of opening gifts and you save one trip to the store.

  4. We have some quick green tips on our website as well!

  5. i usually will always buy my gifts online because they are so expensive in the shops but instead of wrapping them (or receiving wrapped gifts) i always give them in the packaging they arrived in but may just add a little color to it. i also will never give cards and always ask people not to give them to me. and the main thing i will always do is i always buy things second hand. i will always tell people first so they know but they never mind

  6. Oh!!! its amazing tips for making holiday more better..!!! thanks for sharing….PVC Cards

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