Tis the Season to be Green | How to Have A Green Holiday… and Not Become a Scrooge About It

Many pines and firs are grown to be cut as Christmas trees, and like other crops, they’ll be replanted. Unless you already own a fake tree

Aaahhh. . . the holiday season is upon us. It’s an opportunity to spend time with family and friends. A time to give thanks for our many blessings. A time to celebrate hope and rebirth. A time when Americans cover their houses with energy-sucking strings of light and generate one million extra tons of garbage every week from Thanksgiving through the New Year (according to Robert Lilienfeld, author of Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who we Really Are).

Bah, Humbug? Obviously, we need to make some changes in how we celebrate this time of the year, but who wants to be a Grinch or a Scrooge and spoil everyone else’s most wonderful time of the year? Here are some ideas to help you find the right balance between conservation and celebration.

Find the Meaning: Before you buy a truckload of presents, decorations, and holiday food, ask yourself what your purpose is in purchasing all these things. Chances are you want to create a festive, joyful celebration for your loved ones. Whether you are celebrating Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, or the Solstice, take the time to consider what makes that holiday meaningful to you and what you can do to bring out the significance of the holiday for yourself and your family. Spend less time buying things and enliven the holiday spirit by spending more time with family and friends. Play board games, bake cookies, go for nature walks, read a holiday book to your kids, go sledding, volunteer to help those who are less fortunate, etc.

Give Thoughtfully. The manufacturing, packaging, and transportation of stuff burdens our landfills and contributes to global warming. Consider whittling down your gift list to close family members and friends. Give gifts that will have a long and useful life. Make your own gifts or buy gifts and decorations from locally owned stores and craft markets featuring local craftspeople. Don’t forget to bring your reusable shopping bags when doing your holiday shopping!

That’s a Wrap: Consider wrapping gifts with hand-decorated newspaper and brown paper bags, or reusable cloth with a holiday print. According to the Sierra Club, if each of us were to forgo conventional wrapping for just three presents, we would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

Eat, Drink, & Be Merry. Buy locally grown food and celebrate the local harvest. Be kind to the environment and use cloth napkins and real flatware and dishes instead of paper for parties and holiday meals. Minimize food waste by composting scraps and eating the leftovers.

O Christmas Tree. Fake trees may contain lead and ultimately will end up in a landfill where they will not biodegrade. Unless you already own a fake tree, consider a real tree. Cut trees are grown for the purpose of being Christmas trees, and like any other crop, they will be replanted. Just make sure that your tree ends up as mulch, not in the landfill after the holidays. Live trees can be planted in your yard in the spring, but be honest—how much room do you have in your yard for Christmas trees past? If you do get a live tree, make sure that it’s a species of tree that will grow well in Iowa. This year I am considering buying a Norfolk Island pine, which masquerades as a houseplant eleven months out of the year and can be dressed up as a Christmas tree for the remaining one.

Use Less Energy. Put your holiday lights on a timer. Consider replacing your conventional holiday lights with LEDs (light-emitting diodes). LED bulbs use 80 to 90 percent less electricity than conventional bulbs. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Energy, if everyone replaced their conventional holiday lights with LEDs, at least two billion kilowatt-hours of electricity could be saved in a month. Or you can save even more energy with solar-powered LED holiday lights!

One final tip for having a green holiday season: feeling guilty or gloomy is not going to help the environment, but it might ruin a good party. So while you are trying to balance saving the earth with celebrating, don’t forget to have a good time. Happy holidays!

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