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'Tis the Season

Tips for greening your holidays

The holiday season is again upon us. It's the time of year when friends and family gather amidst twinkling lights and festive spirits.

While it's the season of cheer, we know the decorations, parties, shared meals, and gifts come at a cost. What many don't know is that the merrymaking comes with a high environmental price tag too.

Between Thanksgiving and the end of December, Americans produce an extra 2 billion pounds of garbage every week! Much of this is gift packaging.

Energy use soars during the holidays when people plug in string after string of decorative lights. Conventional incandescent light strands can add $30 to $60 to your monthly electric bill. Besides the added strain on your holiday budget, the extra electricity translates into more pollution from power plants.

This year, as you come together with loved ones, try to lessen the impact and celebrate the environment. You may find that rather than detracting from the festivities, environmentally-based choices increase the sense of generosity and goodwill that makes the holidays so special.


Buy strings of light-emitting diodes, or LED lights, that use only 3 kilowatts per string, versus the 100 kilowatts used by conventional incandescent lights. The lights come in all colors. Illuminating three strands of LED lights for five hours a day for two months will increase your electric bill by only 30 cents.

Instead of buying plastic decorations, consider a décor of seasonal plants, or reuse decorations from years gone by. Two-thirds of the households in the U.S. buy new decorations every year, ringing up the national price tag at $7.5 billion. If each of these households conserved just $6 of their decorating budget by reusing items from previous years, the money saved could heat all of New England's 5.9 million homes for a week of the coldest winter weather.

If you want a holiday tree, you face a conundrum. Artificial trees are reusable, but most (85 percent) are made in China from non-biodegradable plastic and metal. Many real trees are unsustainably farmed and some have pesticides on them, not something you want to bring into your home. If you choose artificial, find a model that will keep you in the holiday spirit for a long time. About 20,000 years should be long enough for it to finally return to the earth. If you yearn for the smell of fresh pine in your home, potted trees are available that can later be planted in the yard. Barring that, buy local and encourage local tree farms to refrain from using pesticide.

Gift wrap

Reuse paper before sending it to the recycling station. Use the Sunday funnies as wrapping paper. Better yet, make your own by stamping colorful designs onto plain newspaper using tempura paints and potato stamps. Not only do you conserve resources and save money, you avoid waiting in lines at stores to buy wrapping paper, and you start a memorable family tradition. If you insist on glossy store-bought wrapping paper, look for some with recycled content.

For a more exotic twist, learn from the Japanese art of furoshiki, the elegant art of wrapping gifts and goods in fabric. A bright patch of silk or cotton is more likely to be reused than wrinkled paper, whether it is as gift wrap or a pocket square.

Reuse ribbons and bows. Use recycled paper bows, dried flowers, or a reusable scarf to adorn gifts. If every household conserved an arm's length of ribbon this year, the amount saved could tie a bow around the earth.


To cut down on gift-wrap garbage, consider presents that slide into an envelope: gift cards, concert tickets, movie vouchers. If just half our nation's households replaced two packages with these smaller, experience-based gifts, more than 50 million tons of waste could be avoided.

When buying electronics or appliances, take energy-efficiency into account and look for ENERGY STAR ® qualified products.

If every child under age 6 received a quality wooden version of a plastic toy, one that could be passed down to a younger child, we would decrease 17 million pounds of landfilled plastic for every year the toy is used.

Most importantly, amidst the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping and party preparations, don't lose sight of the true reason for the season.


Content updated on 12/20/2007

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