The 12 Ways of Christmas | Seventh Generation
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The 12 Ways of Christmas

Author: the Inkslinger

No matter what holidays you're celebrating this season, the odds are good that there'll be a few extra lights, a party or two, many mysterious parcels, and lots of garbage bags. And that's just for starters. Fun for us, but perhaps not so much for the environment. Here are 12 ways to change that and jingle your bells sustainably.

Light up with less. Replace traditional holiday lights with modern LED strands, which consume 70-90% less electricity (1)  and last just about forever. Up to 800 LEDs can be powered by the wattage  needed  for (get this) just one old-fashioned holiday bulb (2)!

Gather gifts online. Whether they're from the website of a local boutique or a retailing giant, 10 pounds of purchases shipped overnight use 40% less energy to make their way down your chimney than the average round-trip to a bricks-and-mortar mall (3).

Repack the peanuts. From bubble wrap to foam peanuts,  save those packing materials for your own outgoing boxes. If you need more, pop an oil-free batch of popcorn in a hot air popper for a renewable alternative.

Put it on a card. Gift cards prevent wasteful closet clutter—whatever they give is guaranteed to get loved because the recipient picks it themselves! Cards can be traded at Plastic Jungle and recycled at Earthworks.


Don't put it on a card. More than two billion Christmas cards were sold in the U.S. last year (4). Cut down on the trees cut down to make them by giving e-cards instead. Phone calls are nice, too.

Leave the packaging at the North Pole. The typical family's solid waste stream increases 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. That's a million extra tons of national trash (5),  and a lot of it is product packaging. Lighten this load by choosing gifts sold with a minimum of packaging or in easily recyclable materials like #1 PETE, #2 HDPE, and #4 LDPE.


Plug into better batteries. Forty percent of all battery sales occur during the holidays.  Getting or giving rechargers prevents the waste they create. Look for a universal charger that accepts all sizes of both NiCad and NiMH batteries. If it's a gift, add some starter batteries, too.

Wrap it in reuse. Outdated maps, newspapers, wallpaper and fabric scraps, holiday shopping bags, and other papers make great recycled gift wrap. So do actual gifts like towels, bandanas, baskets, and tote bags.  Avoid foil and Mylar wraps, which are almost impossible to recycle.


Bow out on ribbon. Trim gifts with natural accents like evergreen tips, holly sprigs, pine cones, raffia, ornamental grasses, and other biodegradable objets d'art instead.

Give new gifts with old greetings. Save this year's holiday cards and cut them into gift tags next year.

Don't party with plastic. Use real tableware. If you don't have enough for the crowd that's coming, borrow from friends or family, or rent from a party supply company.

Chill out at holiday gatherings. Turn down your thermostat as guests arrive. Believe it or not, their body heat will likely keep things comfortable.

Strategies like these make special days merry not messy. Pack them into your sleigh this year and ride into a holiday season that brings sustainable joy to the world.




Photo:  michelle_k_lynch

Comments picture
Cheer up, JingleBelle! Today's LEDs are way better than those of just a few years ago. I know you were unhappy with your first experience, but try again. You'll be glad you did.
noffkebrown picture
I agree with JingleBelle: I do not like the colors of the LED Christmas lights! They are ugly. Any ideas?
LaureenMT picture
I have enjoyed using LED lights on our Christmas tree and outside decorations for years and am gradually replacing all of our incandescents, so I must disagree with JingleBelle. I always choose the WARM WHITE bulbs, which do not have the bluish cast of the other whites. And the colored LED lights are much brighter than my old strands! I generally do not like to mix LEDs and incandescents in one display because the difference is visible. On a small evergreen tree near the street, I will use incandescent whites and LED reds (while my incandescents are still useable), but I would not mix white LEDs with white incandescents. Every year, some of my incandescents go dead (or lose half of their lights). I replace them with high quality LEDs, like those made by Bethlehem Lighting. In four years, I have never lost a single light on my LED strands!
RealMomofNJ picture
Great tips. I really like the one about saving this year's cards to make into next year's gift tags. Clever!
terridaivd picture
Another way to make the holidays more sustainable is to eliminate or reduce the amount of animal products served. Animal products are a major contributor to climate change, erosion, pollution in waterways, oil usage, etc.
JingleBelle picture
I like the idea that LEDs use less electricity, but they are not successful as Christmas lights. The colors are atrocious! They're not festive, they're just weird! The "white" bulbs have a weird blue that looks like they are heralding the arrival of space aliens, instead of Christmas angels. The "blues" are a weird purple shade. The yellows and reds are weak and dull. I was one of the first to buy LED lights about 6-7 years ago. I went to Home Depot and bought 2 strands of bulbs the size of the old C9 incandescents and put them up. When I lit them, I was embarrassed! They were dull, dim and ugly. They barely illuminated themselves, and didn't even reflect off the rain gutters. The next year I put up strings of incandescent mini-lights, and the following year I went back to the C9s. I don't care if they use more electricity, at least they're bright, joyful and festive. They're only on for 3-4 weeks of the year, for 6-8 hours a day, so it's not that costly. The LEDs can't hold a candle to the incandescents. When Home Depot used to take old light sets in and give people discounts for buying LEDs, I wanted to go to Home Depot and say "How about giving me all the old sets you take in if I give you my ugly LEDs?" When I drive around and see people's Christmas displays, I can always tell the LEDs from the incandescent lights, and if they mix them, I always think "Too bad about the LEDs; it would have looked better if they were all regular bulbs." Clearly, Christmas lighting is one area where LEDs are not successful. I think it's unfortunate and deplorable that people are buying these things and spoiling their displays. Maybe someday LEDs will be improved, but that time is not here yet.