Simple Ways to Protect the Earth during the Holiday Season

The holidays can be a warm, magical time of year when we show our appreciation of each other through celebrations and gift-giving. Unfortunately it can also become a time of overconsumption, wastefulness and increased strain on the environment. But with a little innovation and commitment, this holiday season can become an opportunity to create new holiday traditions that help protect the environment not only for this holiday season, but for generations to come.

  • Get a live and replantable tree. A live, potted tree can serve your holiday needs and then beautify your yard for years into the future. A live tree provides an ongoing remembrance of the holidays, cleans our air, and helps protect the planet from global warming. The tree will survive indoors for about a week with ample watering, and then when you’re ready, transplant it outside in a spot you have already prepared, or donate it to a school, park or community centre. If you do opt for the traditional tree, make sure it is recycled or composted rather than thrown into a landfill. And by all means, avoid artificial trees. Artificial trees are petroleum- based, wasteful products.

  • Minimize waste when packaging and wrapping gifts. The point of a gift is the gift itself, while excess packaging and wrapping products just become part of the waste stream. Consumers can reduce waste by buying unpackaged and minimally-packaged gifts and toys, and then finding creative ways to decorate and wrap their gifts. Gifts can be wrapped in fabric gift bags, baskets or reusable tins, which can be used for storage or future gifts for years to come. For larger gifts, hide them in another room, cover with a sheet or blanket and then leave a card with clues or a riddle as to their whereabouts. If you must wrap, wrap your presents in the Sunday comics which accomplishes all three “R’s”-you reduce by not buying wrapping paper, you reuse, and you recycle the paper after the presents are opened. You can also use leftover fabric, lightweight wallpaper, and colourful scarves to wrap presents. Alternatively, buy wrapping paper and holiday cards with post-consumer recycled content, which “closes the loop,” and helps create a market for recyclables. Another alternative to traditional holiday cards is to send a paper-free electronic greeting card by e-mail. Avoid using foam plastic packaging; newspaper and popcorn make great packing material, as well as biodegradable packing peanuts, which are available from most office, supply outlets.

  • Be creative when decorating. The greenest holiday decorations are those you make yourself, such as stringing popcorn and cranberries together, or get the kids involved making the decorations out of leftover construction paper or last year’s holiday cards. Better yet, let your children discover what nature has to offer: take a walk with them around your backyard to find decorative items such as pine cones, leaves, berries, and flowers (Many natural decorations have the added plus of being compostable after the holidays!) If you are going to use traditional decorations, store and reuse your decorations from year to year or trade with friends and family. When decorating the tree, minimize the size and amount of electric lights to save energy. Avoid spray snow, which contains toxic chemicals; opt instead for home-made paper snowflake cut-outs.

  • Think green when giving. The holiday season is a wonderful opportunity to use your consumer dollars to support companies and products which are better for the environment, which sends a powerful economic message. Look for gifts that are made of natural components, such as organically grown cotton or hemp, especially when shopping for items such as clothing, bedding and towels. Be on the lookout for products that are recyclable or have recycled content. When buying appliances or products like computers, look for the Energy Star label, which ensures they are energy efficient. When purchasing toys for young children, buy dolls and stuffed animals made of organic cotton, or handcrafted toys made from natural wood. Make sure to avoid toys and teethers made from vinyl plastic containing PVC components, which are a health hazard and pollute the environment. Another great gift idea is a plant or tree, which cleans the air, beautifies our living space and lasts throughout the year. The other alternative is to give “not waste” gifts like a gift certificate to a local store or artisan, for services like massages, theatre and museum tickets, or memberships to a zoo or nature centre. You can also give creative gift “coupons” for services such as baby-sitting, raking, weeding, or have your children help you make a handmade craft. Other great ideas are gifts that introduce the recipient to environmentally friendly products which help him or her become greener (such as rechargeable batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs), a membership in an environmental organization, or a donation to a favourite charity in the recipient’s name.

  • Entertain green. The holiday season often calls for lots of family get- togethers and big meals. Try to avoid disposables when entertaining and instead set your table with china, silverware, glasses and cloth napkins. There will be less paper consumption and less to throw out, plus you can establish new traditions for next year. Buy snacks and beverages in bulk, which produces less package waste. When preparing meals, buy organic produce, which reduces your exposure to toxic pesticides, and supports sustainable non- polluting agriculture. Recycling cans, glass, cardboard, paper and plastic is especially important during this time since such a huge amount of waste is generated. Food leftovers can be donated to a shelter.

  • Do your shopping online (thus eliminating the pollution from car travel or the waste of paper catalogues). You’ll save energy and reduce your own stress levels by not driving back and forth to various shopping malls. Shopping on the Internet for gifts that were going to be shipped anyway can eliminate a considerable amount of energy consumption and air pollution. Transportation can be reduced to simply shipping the gift from the factory to the gift recipient.

  • Keep it green. Make an early New Year’s resolution: Commit to maintaining your green habits even after the holidays. With a little innovation and commitment, you and your family can keep giving gifts to the planet all year long.

From EarthVision Environmental News-December 13, 2002