Tips For A Greener Holiday Season
With gift-giving and all of the holiday parties, Americans throw away an estimated 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than at other times of the year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Partners for Environmental Progress.
If crowded malls, tedious travel and impersonal gifts take the fun out of your holidays, give yourself—and the planet—a break this season with these 20 tips:
- Wrap gifts in old maps, comic pages, or use re-usable gift bags or baskets. Use reusable ribbons and bows, or decorate with pinecones, holly or other natural materials.I’ll be wrapping gifts this year in scraps of wonderful wallpapers!
- Buy Local – Check your local crafts fairs and Farmer’s Markets for gift ideas, such as herb-flavored hand-pressed olive oils, soaps, monthly vegetable box subscriptions, handmade clothes, jewelry or photography. This supports the local farmers and craftsmen, as well as reducing vehicle trips to crowded malls and shopping centers.
- Send digital cards rather than paper ones. It takes about 300,000 trees to make the approximately 2.65 billion holiday cards that Americans buy each year. Send free e-cards instead, available from websites such as PunchBowl.com and eGreetings.com.
- Bring along your own cloth bag for shopping–that’s standard practice now in Berkeley!
- Give environmentally-friendly gifts such as canvas bags, stainless steel travel mugs or water bottles, or garden tools.
- Buy Organic – Look for organic cotton or hemp products, such as linens, towels, shirts, socks and other clothes as gifts.
- Give consumable gifts such as candles, note cards or Fair Trade coffee, teas or chocolates. This supports the economies of countries struggling to be green themselves. Gift cards to The Cheese Board are always a hit!
- Give BART or other transit agency tickets to encourage public transportation instead of driving.
- Avoid battery-dependent toys or tools, or add rechargeable batteries and a recharger to the gift. Wind-up toys are still fun!
- Give energy-efficient, good quality compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or LEDs as gifts; these will save at least 75% of the energy used by incandescent lights. Also look for the temperature rating (color of the light) on the package, or the base of the lamp to get the right color light for each room. If in doubt, 3100 Kelvin (warm white) is good in all rooms. Lower numbers are warmer, higher numbers are cooler and brighter.
- Start a savings account for a child.
- Invite friends over for a home-cooked meal as a gift, especially if they are elderly or have difficulty cooking for themselves.
- Donate money to a charity the recipient cares about, instead of buying something you aren’t sure they’ll want.
- Make your own gift tags using last year’s holiday cards or other sturdy paper.
- Use LED (light-emitting diode) lights to decorate. These use 90% LESS energy than standard incandescent mini lights, and are available at drugstores and hardware stores.
- Instead of flying or driving long distances, consider giving web cameras (starting at about $50) to your loved ones, and doing online “video visits” for the holidays and the rest of the year. Software is free and downloadable from the internet, and there is no charge for these video calls, including international ones.
- Donate unwanted gifts, or last year’s gifts the kids have outgrown, to charitable organizations.
- Pretend you’re a tourist visiting your own town. Visit a museum or a regional park and take in the local sites. During the holidays, take the time to enjoy what’s right in your own backyard! Suggestions include the Berkeley Rose Garden or waterfront parks, a relaxing train trip to Historic Sacramento along the bay’s waterfront, or a visit to the Oakland Museum of California by BART. Or even a splurge at a local spa!
- After the holidays, compost cut trees and wreaths. Watch for information from your local public works department for your tree pick-up date.
- Save bows and ribbons for future use. When I was growing up I used to consider my mother embarrassingly thrifty for saving bows. Funny, how many things our parents and grandparents did to economize are now done in the name of recycling and “creative re-use.” Whatever you call it, less waste is a good thing!
The number of long distance trips (50 miles or more each way) also increases by 54% around the holidays, making it the most energy-intensive time of the year and generating the most greenhouse gases of any 5-week period of the year.