In many ways the holiday focus has changed from family traditions to mass consumption. In an effort to be less wasteful and easier on the planet this time around, here are some tips to make the green of your holiday season a little more vibrant.
|Douglas fir cone
|Christine Duchesne/Yellostone Digital Slide File
Few people will probably confess to preferring a faux tree or wreath to a real evergreen, with its lush branches and nostalgic scent. But plastic trees made from petroleum products are also unappealing given their resistance to biodegradation.
The best option is a live, native tree with a root ball that can be planted elsewhere when holiday festivities are over (see “365 Days of Christmas,” November-December 2005). Where a live-tree option is unavailable, be sure to seek out tree farms that limit the use of pesticides or use integrated pest management, so you can avoid bringing unwanted chemicals into your home.
To dispose of a cut tree, try using local tree recycling programs, such as those run by Boy Scout troops or local recycling centers. Wildlife refuges also use donated trees for habitat restoration. To find a tree recycling program in your area, see Earth 911’s Treecycling finder.
As the competition for best light display in the neighborhood begins, consider using energy-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) strings. The lights are safer because they don’t give off heat, reducing the risk of a holiday house fire. Because they use up to 90 percent less energy, they’ll save big bucks on your electric bill, too. LED lights also last a lot longer (some have estimated 20,000-hour lifespans) than their traditional counterparts, and when bulbs do burn out, the rest of the string will stay lit, meaning the days of searching for the one bulb that made the rest go dark are over. Many of the department and hardware stores where holiday lights are normally available are now regularly stocking LED options. MrLight.com and The Sportsman’s Guide offer solar-powered LED lights that can be placed anywhere in the yard, making decorating possibilities endless.
Try using natural, native materials from the environment around your home for crafty decorations. Fallen pinecones, for example, can be made into wreathes, ornaments, or centerpieces. Have the kids collect and paint the cones for a wreath before gluing them to a wire frame (old, non-rusty coat hangers could work).
Avoid taking more materials than you need from the natural environment, however, and be careful about buying cones and moss from the crafts store. While sphagnum moss is a popular addition to crafts, hanging baskets and Bonsai displays, its harvest in the Pacific Northwest has altered forest ecosystems.
Instead, use materials you already have around the house to avoid unnecessary consumption. Since you’ve surely replaced all of your old incandescent lightbulbs with compact florescent bulbs, help the kids transform the old bulbs into snowmen, elves or Santas.
While sending out the annual holiday greeting card or newsletter, there are many different options, but cards printed on post-consumer recycled paper are one of the best. Most paper types come in 30, 50, or 100 percent post-consumer content (PCC). Greenprinter.com offers custom-printed greeting cards on a variety of different recycled papers using soy ink.
Environmental groups also often offer sponsored greeting cards. Ten percent of the proceeds from each box of 30 percent recycled holiday cards from the Audubon Society goes to its conservation efforts.
If you’d like to skip paper cards altogether, send an e-card, widely available online in hundreds of different styles.
Old greeting cards can also be reused in a number of crafty projects.
- Save the side with the picture to make into a new card
- Cut the side with the picture into multiple small tags for holiday gifts
- Glue blank construction paper inside and convert them into fancy menus for the big family meal
- Cut cards into strips for bookmarks
- Use a hole punch to make New Year’s confetti.
Most people are probably familiar with using the Sunday funnies as giftwrap, but here are other ways to save on wrapping waste.
- Use old calendars, maps, wallpaper, or paper grocery bags as wrapping.
- Use old fabric scraps to make gift bags that recipients can use for another purpose after they enjoy their gift. Or buy fabric gift bags at reusablebags.com or wrappingbags.com. At wrapsacks.com, customers can track their gift bags to see where they came from or where they’ve traveled—a fun way to show how many uses the bag gets.
- Buy a gift that doesn’t need to be wrapped, such as a gift certificate, season tickets to a sports team or theater, a gift magazine subscription, or a pass to the national parks.
At the very least, most paper wrapping can—and should—be recycled.
For eco-friendly gift giving this year, there are a few words to remember: recycled, local, fair trade, sustainable.
Recycled: Trendy handbags made out of old gum wrappers, bowls and vases made from melted-down glass, a fleece sweater from recycled plastic—these are just a few gifts that don’t use virgin resources to produce. Re-gifting, once seen as tacky and unthoughtful, can be a good way to waste less. Why stow away a perfectly good gift you can’t use when someone else could enjoy it?
Try re-gifting in a crafty way by using Grandma’s old broach to create a new necklace or belt buckle, or make broken jewelry pieces into whole new accessories.
Local: Support your local economy by buying homemade jam, pickles, or crafts from a vendor at the farmers' market, give a gift certificate to a restaurant that uses local, organic ingredients, or buy a gift membership to a local food co-op. Supporting local vendors and avoiding big commercial chains will help reinvest your dollars back into your community.
Fair trade: Fair trade–certified items are those made by indigenous peoples in developing nations whose sale helps promote social and economic progress without exploiting workers. Fair trade chocolate, coffee, tea, toys, clothing and jewelry all make great gifts—not only because they’re often unique, but because by buying them, you directly help the person who made them by supporting fair wages and working conditions. A Greater Gift has a large selection of fair trade gifts, and the Fair Trade Federation has a long list of fair trade retailers.
Sustainable: In general, avoid gifts for children that are made from petroleum products, which are not renewable or biodegradable. Bamboo is now a popular material for toys because it is durable, lightweight, and grows back in three years. Buy gifts that don’t need batteries so the fun doesn’t stop when the battery runs out of juice. Crank-powered radios and flashlights are popular items for the gadget lover in the family, and board games, cards and puzzles are good alternatives to electronic games.
For the person who already has enough “stuff,” make a donation in his or her name or purchase something in honor of your recipient that will help someone in need. Heifer International allows people to purchase livestock for a family in a developing country. The organization gives a goat, cow, or other livestock to families through donations. It also trains them how to care for the animal and utilize the milk and eggs the animal provides. Heifer International seeks to end world hunger by teaching about sustainable farming and by providing the resources to help families out of poverty. Many organizations offer the option to make a gift donation—just choose a cause you and your gift recipient believe in.
With growing world population and an ever-increasing emphasis on material goods, this holiday season could be the most wasteful yet. But by consciously cutting down on your holiday waste and by utilizing recycled and sustainable resources, this winter could be a bit more verdant.
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