Five Ways To Green Your Holiday Season

Filed under: Holidays, Going Green

green gifts

Don't throw that cereal box away -- it could become next year's coolest Christmas card. Credit: WordRidden, Flickr

When you look at the facts, our holiday habits can have an enormous effect on more than just our waistlines this time of year. Now that the holiday season has kicked into full gear, it may seem like there's little time to consider the environmental impacts of all the giving, receiving and festivities; but why not create some new green traditions this season that will continue to pay off for years to come?

Here are five great tips for greening your holiday season:

1. Season's Greetings: 2.6 billion holiday cards are sold each year in the United States, according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board; that's enough to fill a football field 10 stories high. Consider sending online holiday e-cards this year, which produce no waste and yield immediate joy for friends and family. Many sites let you send e-cards for free, and even fee-based services pay for themselves quickly when you consider the number of birthday and other cards sent throughout the year. If you choose to send cards through the mail, turn card-making into a family activity by enlisting your children to help make cards from their artwork, or from scraps of corrugated cardboard, paper, fabric, ribbon, even cereal boxes. If you purchase cards, look for paper with post-consumer recycled content, and for organizations that donate money from purchases to environmental causes. The cards you receive this year can be turned into ornaments and gift tags next year, so be sure to save them all.

2. Great Tree Debate: For years, the debate has continued over the environmental impact of real Christmas trees versus artificial. The consensus today favors real trees, as artificial trees are made from mainly non-renewable plastics that often contain PVC, which the Center for Health, Environment & Justice reports contains or releases the most toxic chemicals of any type of plastic.The National Christmas Tree Association reports that most artificial trees are only used for 6 to 9 years, and then end up in a landfill for centuries, since they cannot be recycled and are not biodegradable. To help ensure your real Christmas tree is as green as possible, try to find one that has been grown organically and pesticide-free, and consider purchasing a potted, living tree that can be replanted by you or a neighborhood park after the holidays. If that's not practical for you, use Earth911.com to help find one of the 4,000 "treecycling" programs in place across the country.

3. Wrap It Up: Half of the paper consumed in the U.S. every year is used to wrap and decorate consumer products, according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board. If you're purchasing gift wrap, look for paper with post-consumer recycled content or buy from organizations that donate to environmental causes. Newspapers and magazines can be repurposed into gift wrap, as can butcher paper and paper bags. Or eliminate waste entirely by wrapping your gift inside a gift, such as a kitchen towel, cloth napkin, or place mat -- even a beach towel. Remember to unwrap carefully and save for next year.

4. Burn Brighter: Although seemingly innocuous, a study from South Carolina State University released earlier this year found that, when burned, traditional paraffin wax candles release a host of toxic chemicals that can cause severe health problems. These chemicals result from the combination of petroleum-based wax, synthetic dyes, artificial fragrances and wicks that can contain traces of heavy metals, such as lead. Choose all-natural soy or beeswax candles for your holiday celebrations. Soy wax is made from rapidly renewable soybeans, while beeswax is produced in the hives of honey bees, and both types burn longer than paraffin. Look for candles that are unscented or scented with pure essential oils.

5. Control Catalog Clutter: Earth911.com reports that each year 19 billion catalogs are mailed to American consumers, the production of which uses 53 million trees and enough energy to power 1.2 million homes for a year. To cut down on the number of unsolicited catalogs and other mail your receive, and help conserve natural resources, try a mail preference service such as the not-for-profit Catalog Choice, which is free, or the Direct Marketing Association's DMAChoice, which charges a $1 fee. Both organizations allow you to remove your name from lists, so you only receive the mail you want.

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