Keeping the Holidays Green

From picking out a tree to serving a holiday feast, here are some suggestions on how to make this season a merrier one for the environment

12-01-2005 // Hannah Schardt

THE HOLIDAY SEASON tends to be one of joyful excess: We cover the house in twinkling lights, drive 300 miles to see Grandma, crank up the thermostat and toss away garbage bags full of wrapping paper. It’s easy to see why the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day are no holiday for the Earth.

But here’s the good news: We can ease that environmental burden without casting a pall over the season. From picking out a tree to serving a holiday feast, here are some suggestions on how to make this season a merrier one for the environment. And who knows? Some of them may become your family’s new holiday traditions.

Decorating

  • If your celebration includes a tree, buy a living one and plant it in the yard after the holidays are over. Remember, a living tree doesn’t have to be a seven-foot-tall Douglas fir. Just use any tree you’d like to have in your yard—or your house.
  • If a living tree won’t work for you, be sure to buy your tree from a tree farm rather than cutting one down in a forest. Or consider buying an artificial tree that will last for several seasons.
  • Consider edible ornaments—not for you, but for the birds. Pine cones decorated with nuts, dried fruits and seeds can later be hung outside as beautiful birdfeeders.
  • Instead of decking the halls with store-bought decorations, hang boughs sawed from the bottom of your tree. They look festive and smell wonderful.
  • Once the holidays are over, recycle your tree. Most towns will schedule a day to pick up discarded trees for recycling. Alternately, you can chip it and add it to your compost pile.
  • If you simply must put lights on the house, turn them on only when it’s dark and turn them off before you go to bed to conserve energy.

Dining

  • The holidays aren’t the holidays without a feast. But with a feast comes—in most families—some waste. In fact, if every person in the United States throws away just one bite of turkey, that adds up to more than 8 million pounds of wasted turkey. Try not to cook more than your family will eat.
  • This year’s Brussels sprouts could be next year’s mulch: Almost any nonanimal food products can be composted and incorporated into next spring’s garden.
  • Paper plates and plastic silverware can sound tempting when you’re planning a meal for 20, but all that trash winds up in a landfill. Use reusable dinnerware.
  • Remember to recycle beverage bottles and food cans.

Exchanging Gifts

  • Colorful wrapping paper has become the holiday norm, but there’s still something to be said for brown paper packages, tied up with string. Paper grocery bags can be used—inside out—to wrap all but the biggest presents. Newspapers, too, make surprisingly elegant wrapping paper when tied with a bright—and reusable—ribbon.
  • Make the wrapping part of the present. Canvas shopping bags and dish towels make pretty and practical packages, and reusable tins are good for homemade cookies and candy.
  • Give gifts that last. Many toys and gifts end up in the trash or in the back of a closet. Instead of exchanging junk, give tickets to a concert or a game. Then try to get yourself invited along!
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