How to Be Earth Friendly During the Holidays

The holidays are traditionally a time of joy and challenges, both of which often stem from bringing far-flung families back together after long absences, or squeezing nearby family members even closer together for a short time. Rightly or wrongly, the holidays have also become associated with conspicuous consumption; one of the biggest holiday challenges is maintaining an earth-friendly lifestyle. However, it can be done, and if you play your cards right you might even get your entire family involved.


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    Think energy efficiency when using items that draw on power. You'll save money and energy at the same time:
    • Replace old light-up decorations with energy-efficient LED versions––you'll save up to 90 percent on energy costs with LED lights compared with conventional lights.
    • Use automatic timers or sensor lights for lights in rooms and areas that will have frequent visitors but not long-staying visits. Examples include the bathroom, hallway, driveway or path to your porch.
    • Switch off your computers when not in use. Do you really need to sit at it all through the holidays? Give yourself a few decent breaks from the online world and immerse yourself in the holiday festivities instead.
    • Think ahead and make less trips to the stores. When purchasing gifts, picking up poultry and shopping for food, try to do as much as possible in a single trip, reducing the amount of multiple trips just for one or two items. Check tire pressure and tread to increase the energy efficiency of your vehicle too; both cold and heat extremes (depending on where you live) during the holiday season can affect the tires detrimentally. And where you can, walk or carpool to the stores.
    • Lower the heating thermostat (or for those in hot climates, increase the point at which the air conditioning kicks in). If you're burning a fire, lower the thermostat even more.
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    Decorate with earth-friendly items. There are endless ways to decorate through reusing, recycling. Just a few ways to get started include:
    • Purchase fresh, local, pesticide-free wreaths and trees whenever possible. For wreaths, you might even consider making one from scrap fabric, recycled paper or pine cones from the local park.
    • Save your decorations from last year and re-use them. When you do buy new decorations, opt for recycled holiday decorations or at least recyclable versions whenever possible. Aim to keep decorations for as many years as possible, so that they take on the aura of "heirlooms". You might even use ones you've inherited from other family members.
    • Make your own decorations from scrap materials and from repurposing things around the house. There are many books and online articles which will explain how to do this if your imagination is stuck!

    • Think nature when decorating––pine cones, acorns, shells, leaves, branches and more are all suitable for decorating your home with.
    • Decorate the tree with cranberry and popcorn strands. You can feed these to the birds when the holiday season ends.
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    Wrap green. Don't be afraid to use unusual sources of paper, from newspaper to magazine catalogs and comic strips. Dress the gifts up with scrap ribbon, string and other bits and pieces from around the home. Provided you do this stylishly, they'll look fantastic––and unique.
    • Wrap gifts in cloth, scarves or a t-shirt instead of disposable wrapping paper (furoshiki). This continues the idea of giving something useful that can be re-used instead of thrown away, or to re-use something that would otherwise have gone into the trash.

    • If you need to use protective packaging, look for biodegradable peanuts and environmentally friendly soft foam.
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    Get friends and family members involved. The holidays are usually a time for visiting, and if the entire group is looking for earth-friendly ways to celebrate, you'll all benefit from the positive peer pressure.
    • Travel wisely to holiday gatherings. Carpool or take mass transit when possible. Some plane travel may be unavoidable for far-flung families, but according to Discovery's Planet Green, flying and driving alone are the two most emission-intensive ways to travel. Short flights emit more carbon dioxide than long flights. Even if you can't avoid flying in some family members, you can still cut down on energy expenditure and greenhouse emissions by sticking to mass transit or people-powered transportation as much as possible once you're together.
    • Encourage visiting family members to follow earth-friendly practices. These include taking short showers, turning lights and electronics off when not in use. Unplugging electronics when not in use, or switching off the power strip, also saves electricity.
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    Ask everyone to give at least one green gift. This could be a donation to charity, a valuable service, or a crafted or recycled item that used little or no energy to create or ship. Once the idea catches on, you may be able to encourage completely green gifting.
    • Green gifts that "keep on giving" include donations to a nature conservancy, programs that help people in developing world communities maintain a livelihood and adopt-a-tree style programs.
    • Invite re-gifting. This reduces the costs and energy use associated with creating and shipping new items. It also opens the door to something that's probably already going on, anyway.
    • Books on conservation and environmental issues make great gifts when you'd like others to learn more.
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    Serve local and, if possible, organic food at holiday gatherings. Purchase your holiday meats or poultry from local farmers––you may need to reserve in advance. Even in areas where you can't get fresh greens during the winter holidays, you can probably still get local root and storage crops for use with your holiday dinners. Eating organic isn't just easier on your body, it's also easier on the environment since no pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used. Eating local saves on the energy use and greenhouse emissions associated with transporting food over long distances.
    • Turn this into a fun challenge––how many local ingredients can you buy for the holiday dinner? This can make a great talking point during the meal.
    • Avoid using disposable plates, cutlery or other items. Use dishes and cutlery that can be washed and reused (and ask that everyone pitch in to ensure a fast clean up). Alternatively, look for recycled disposable paper goods that can be recycled again. Avoid Styrofoam products––these are the hardest to recycle.
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    Save all gift wrapping paper, packaging materials and decorations you don't intend to keep or reuse. Make it a point to sort these materials into the appropriate recycling categories––paper, types of plastic, glass––and take them to the recycling center or put them out for recycling pickup right after the holiday celebration is over. You can even recycle your Christmas tree.


  • Artificial trees cannot be recycled and usually end up in landfill. Live trees are a renewable resource and can be recycled (composted/turned into mulch) after use.
  • If buying gifts online, look for the companies that sell eco-friendly products or services.
  • Replace the usual Christmas crackers with a sustainable gift each guest can keep and take home. Examples include: seed packets, homemade candies, handmade soaps, etc.
  • Provide recycling bins for guests to toss in glass, paper and other recyclables during the holiday festivities. Clearly mark containers for recycling, compostables and actual garbage, to make it easier for each guest.
  • Take reusable bags with you when go shopping.

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