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Going Green for the Holidays
The holidays are a time full of family and yummy food and making new memories but they can also a time of incredible waste. Gifts are purchased and wrapped, houses and trees are adorned with lights, holiday cards are mailed to family and friends, packages are shipped across country and food is cooked for parties and special days. When the celebrations are over, however, we often find that we could have been kinder to the Earth while planning our festivities. With that in mind, here are a few ways to help you “Go Green for the Holidays”.
Gift Wrap and Holiday Cards:
Americans send almost 2 billion holiday cards each year and spend more than $7 billion on wrapping paper each year. Recycling as much as you can keeps these items out of landfills and also reduces the number of trees needed each year to supply the demand for paper.
– Some gift wrap CAN be recycled but most others cannot. Your regular non-shiny gift wrapping paper can be tossed in your recycling bin with the paper that you’re already recycling. Use this simple test to see if it is recycle-worthy. If you crunch it up into a ball and it stays there, it’s recyclable.
– If it has ANY glitter or metallic paper on the wrapping, it CANNOT be recycled. It must go in the garbage (or be saved and used to re-wrap another gift).
– Tissue paper, bows, ribbons and gift bags can be reused multiple times, provided nothing is torn or badly wrinkled.
– You can make your own gift wrap with white kraft paper, available in large rolls from any art supply store. Not only is it economical but by including your children, you can add a more personal touch to your gift wrap.
– Recycle holiday cards, as long as they aren’t printed on photo paper or don’t have glitter or metallic embossing on them.
In the US alone, approximately $75 billion is spent on Christmas gifts every year! While giving gifts is a wonderful way to celebrate the season, it can add up both financially and environmentally. Here are some ways to help:
– Shop locally! When you purchase items from local vendors, you not only help your local economy but it’s a great way to support small businesses.
– If you do order online, make sure you break down your shipping boxes and recycle them (or re-use them to ship your own packages). You can also re-use the styrofoam packing peanuts or air pillows!
– Give the gift of an experience, such as a membership to a museum or a theme park. The memories you create will last longer than the gift they receive.
– Consider purchasing used items for people on your holiday gift list. Jewelry, pottery and vintage clothing can all make wonderful gifts for the right person.
– Less is More!! Purchase things with value, purpose and meaning instead of buying something just to have a gift to give.
– Give the gift of charity. Give money to a local charity or an organization that means something to you or your family in their name.
– Re-gift unwanted presents to local charities.
Preparing delicious food for friends and family is a wonderful way to celebrate the season but we don’t always think of the impact our gatherings have on the planet. Six million tons (that’s right, I said TONS) of single-use plastic are discarded every year. Single-use plastics include plastic utensils, cups, plates and straws, among other things. While it does make cleaning up easier after a gathering, none of it is recyclable and isn’t easily broken down either, meaning it will sit in a landfill for a few hundred years. Here are a few ways to make your holiday meals “greener”:
– Skip disposable single-use plastics (plates, silverware, cups, etc) for your gatherings. It’s a little more work to wash everything but in the end, it’s significantly better for the planet and you won’t be contributing to the millions of single-use plastic items that will be on Earth for the next 500 years.
– Choose organic, local and/or free-range foods for your holiday parties and dinners.
– Limit beef and dairy products when you can as cattle contribute significantly to the carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere (weird but true). Higher carbon levels are increasing global temperatures which can have a significant impact on our weather and the health of our oceans.
Lights draped over everything that stands still make the holidays more festive, but they use more energy, making it more expensive too! And the wattage for an incandescent bulb is 80-90% more than LED wattage, meaning it costs up to ninety times more to power! Here’s how to ‘go green’ with your lights this year:
– Use energy efficient LED lighting if your strand of lights is more than 10 years old.
– Utilize timers on your lights so that they aren’t on all day and/or night.
Other ways to ‘Go Green’:
– Give ‘battery-free’ gifts! Non-rechargeable batteries can only be used for a limited time and then spend the remainder of their time in a landfill.
– Participate in the annual Christmas Day Bird Count. The National Audubon Society (among others) uses this data to help determine what areas or species may be in need of special protection. To learn more, go here: https://learn.eartheasy.com/guides/annual-bird-count/
– Decorate a tree for the birds with pinecones, suet, peanut butter and/or bird seed.
– Use a living tree as your Christmas tree (Norfolk Island Pines are a good option) that can be used year after year. If you buy a small tree and plant it in a large pot, you may be able to use it for several years before you have to re-pot it. When it becomes too large for your holiday tree, plant it in the yard or chip and mulch it for landscaping.
– Donate used clothes and coats to organizations that can distribute them to people in need.