Making the Holidays Greener!

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but the days around Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa can be the least environmentally friendly.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the amount of household waste increases 25 percent and the use of electrical energy spikes as well. But there are ways to green up the holiday without taking the joy out of the season. Small efforts can go a long way.

Christmas Trees: Ecological and Recyclable.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a tree. Some estimates claim that up to half of Americans with a Christmas tree use artificial trees and many consider them ecologically superior.

If you already have an artificial tree, continue to use it, but real trees are actually more ecologically friendly. Most Christmas trees are grown on tree farms, renewable and locally sourced. Most artificial trees are manufactured and transported from China and made of PVC plastics, which pose environmental hazards during manufacturing.

Families can make a visit to a tree farm an annual event. Look for one nearby and spend a family day drinking cocoa and choosing the perfect tree. Real trees are 100 percent biodegradable; many cities collect trees after the holidays to use as wood chips in parks.

Lighting up the Night
It’s not necessary to forgo decorative lights. Twinkling lights at the darkest time of the year are beautiful and hopeful symbols, whether on a tree or a house. Invest in LED bulbs, which can save up to 90 percent of energy costs, and put them on timers. They can shine on, but they don’t need to be brightening the daylight or post-bedtime hours.

Wrap A Green Holiday
Gift wrapping paper may seem like an ecological extravagance, and while there are those who advocate eliminating wrapping paper altogether, part of the fun of Christmas is the anticipation of seeing brightly wrapped gifts under the tree and opening them on Christmas morning. Those who enjoy making crafts can make their own wrapping paper using old maps, sheet music, newspaper comics or creating artistic designs on brown paper bags. If you’re not crafty or if you’re too busy to create your own gift wrap, avoid using glossy foil or metallic paper, since it can’t be recycled. Look instead for recycled paper and then ask people to carefully open their gifts so that paper can be reused. Gift bags are easy to reuse, even for several years.

According to the Stanford Recycling Program, Americans could save 38,000 miles of trimming by reusing only two feet of ribbon per family, so save the bows and ribbons to use again. Try using a sprig of holly or evergreen instead of a bow for a holiday look.

Gifts Can Help the Planet
At Christmas, it’s fun finding the perfect gift to give to friends and opening packages on Christmas morning is at the center of the holiday celebration. At Hanukkah, there are eight days of gift-giving; during Kwanzaa, the emphasis is on handmade and homemade gifts. But for all of these holidays, there are ways to make the gift-giving custom friendlier to the environment without taking away the fun.

One option is to combine charitable giving with gift-giving. Nature-focused organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and The World Wildlife Fund offer cute stuffed animals with a donation. The Audubon Society has nature-themed clothing, books and other presents. These and dozens of other organizations offer gifts to give while you help support worthwhile charities, from the ASPCA to medical research to helping less fortunate families.

You can also give an experience instead of something material. Wrap up tickets to the theater, a museum or a concert. Certificates for dinner at a favorite restaurant, a massage or a pedicure, or even lessons–music or art, sewing or flying–make valued gifts. Edible and drinkable gifts, homemade or store bought, are appreciated as well. Just be aware of food restrictions when you give.

Recycle and Reuse: the Spirit of the Season
Pay attention to your carbon footprint. Skip the disposable plates, glasses and tablecloths at gatherings. Make your own decorations with natural materials. Give the kids a needle and a long thread and have a party, making strings of popcorn and cranberries for the tree or bake gingerbread people and hang them from the branches. Just be aware that dogs and cats might try to borrow them.

Mailing gifts and cards? Use biodegradable packing materials and look for holiday cards made from recycled materials. Since 40 percent of batteries are sold during the holidays, use rechargeable batteries. When choosing candles, look for natural waxes such as beeswax or soy, which are biodegradable and smoke free.

Having a green holiday can be easy. It takes only a little effort to do a good deed as part of the holiday celebrations. Perhaps these too will become cherished holiday family traditions. ■

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