With a little strategic tweaking in our Holiday traditions, we can help save the planet and go a bit more green this holiday season. Christmas is a joyous time when we all go out with home decorating, giving holiday gifts, and traveling to be with friends and family. Unfortunately, some of our holiday habits wreak havoc on the environment. Tons of extra trash, increased electrical usage due to all those tiny flashing lights, and millions of non-recycled fresh Christmas trees are just a few examples of holiday excesses that can be reduced with some small changes.
Below we have outlined some tips on how to make your household more green this Christmas. We've included tips for more eco-friendly gift-giving, recycling ideas, and advice to reduce electrical use. Christmas is all about sharing the love so this year, let's share some love with our planet too!
We all like to decorate our Christmas trees, winter wedding pavilions, and the exterior of the house with hundreds of those little twinkling lights and you don't have to stop doing that to go green. However, you do need to replace those traditional strings of holiday lights from years past with the newest kid on the block - LED (light emitting diode) strings of lights.
They use up to 90% less energy than traditional incandescent Christmas lights. Beyond the decrease in energy usage, these LED lights produce very little heat which significantly reduces the risk of fire and they last about 10 times longer than traditional lights (about 200,000 hours).
The United States own Department of Energy has estimated that if all Americans replaced their old strings of Christmas lights with the new LED strands, over 2 billion kilowatt hours of energy could be saved just in the winter month of December. Apparently, that is enough to power 200,000 American homes for a full year.
Currently, there is a bit of a debate about which is better - a fake or real Christmas tree. Since most Christmas lot trees are now grown on tree farms, some argue that it doesn't really hurt the forests when they get cut down because they are generally replanted. And they also argue in favor of fresh trees because artificial ones are fabricated from petroleum based products and of course, energy is used to make them. The other side of the argument is that artificial trees are better because you don't waste gas going to the lot every year to buy the tree.
If you are one of the 33 million North Americans that will have a real Christmas tree in your home this year, recycle it at the end of the season, rather than throwing it in the trash. By recycling your fresh Christmas tree, you can reduce the amount of waste going to your local landfill. Recycled trees are often turned into wood chips and/or mulch that local county park landscapers and homeowners can use around their existing yard plants. Many local cities are now offering tree recycling pick-up for free. Just contact your local recycling center for instructions and pick-up dates in your area.
Sending Christmas cards to friends, family, neighbors and co-workers is a tradition in most American families. This year, try to buy cards that have been made from recycled paper or sustainable forests.
And instead of throwing the cards that you have received in the trash bin at the end of the season, recycle them. Many local card stores offer free Christmas card recycling.
Finally, buy cards from an organization that uses the funds to make a difference.
Let's face it, the holidays are about Christmas gifts for a large portion of the population. It is this Christmas present tradition (among other things) that leads to a significant increase of a million extra tons of trash in the US between Thanksgiving Day and New Year's Day (the official holiday season). According to the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the average U.S. household garbage increases by 25% during the holiday season.
When you go Christmas shopping, take your own cloth personalized tote bags with you to carry home the presents. You can look fashionable with some of the cool totes on the market today. This is a great way to cut down on the plastic bag waste that we create during the holiday season. Also if stores offer you 'free' Christmas gift boxes, decline unless you absolutely plan to use them. All those free gift boxes create a lot of unnecessary waste.
One great way to reduce holiday waste is by recycling cheap Christmas gift wrap. Using re-usable gift bags and gift boxes with printed holiday lids are great ideas because the bags and boxes don't get torn (like wrapping paper) so reusing them is easy from year to year. If you do use gift wrap, buy recycled wrap at the store. Most major retailers now sell wrap that is made from recycled paper. Finally, save and reuse all those holiday ribbons and bows from year to year. You can even consider using natural items like big holly berries and leaves from your yard to decorate presents rather than loads of ribbon.
Another idea is to give gifts that don't require much, if any, wrapping at all. Unique Christmas gifts such as sporting event or theater tickets, a weekend at the spa, store gift cards, and hand-written certificates for a free night of baby sitting are not only great holiday gift ideas, but they also require little or no gift wrap. If you are really gung-ho about recycling, you could use an old Christmas card to present the tickets or gift certificates.
Some families go a bit overboard with presents. Consider doing a name exchange so that each person only gets one present (instead of everyone getting a present for everyone else). This will make the gift more special and it will cut down on waste.
Choose to give charitable gifts to support whatever cause the recipient supports such as the environment or AID to Africa (e.g. Millennium Promise). Donating time or money on the recipient's behalf is an awesome gift. You could even purchase carbon offsets for the frequent flier or car commuter.
Finally, consider making your own gifts to help reduce waste. Baked goods like Christmas cookies, homemade jams and other treats are great for those that are good in the kitchen. Be sure to give them in reusable containers too!
If you happen to receive a gift that you don't want, give it to charity or return it (if possible) rather than throwing it away. There is likely someone out there that would cherish such a gift.
During the holiday season, there seems to be a never ending schedule of Christmas and corporate holiday parties as well as family dinners and events. Don't forget to consider the environment when planning these types of functions.
Recycle all those glass bottles and cans that party guests consumed at your big holiday cocktail and appetizer bash. Many communities now offer curbside recycling so politely ask guests to place their bottles and cans in the specially marked bin instead of the trash at the party. After large parties, you may need to store some of the recyclables in the garage, putting out what will fit in your curbside bin over several weeks.
When cooking the big family holiday meal, you'll likely use some aluminum foil. Don't forget that it is totally recyclable in most curbside pick-up bins.
Plan your holiday menu and buy your groceries wisely. Over 1/3 of groceries purchased for meals end up going in the trash because they don't get eaten. Buy only what you need and if you can buy local produce instead of items that need to be shipped in from other countries, you'll reduce energy waste needed to get the food to your area.
If you don't have a composter, consider getting one. Compost is great for the yard and it cuts down significantly on the amount of waste that goes to the landfill.
Save water during party clean-up by scraping the dinner plates before placing them in the dishwasher (rather than rinsing them). Having the tap water on for a minute can waste up to 2 gallons of water so the less time the water is on, the better! Bake your own Christmas party favors to give guests and utilize recycled containers or bags for the presentation to guests.