By Margaret Southern, The Nature Conservancy
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 7 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, try 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.
It may be 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 percent 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?
Margaret Southern is a writer for The Nature Conservancy. She writes about international conservation projects and also blogs on Cool Green Science about her experience going from “greenish” to “greener.” Her interests include world travel, biking, microbrews and her boxer, Lucy.
(Image: Presents. Credit: thehoneybunny/Flickr through a Creative Commons license)