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 Outdated maps, newspapers, wallpaper and fabric scraps, holiday shopping bags, and other papers make great recycled gift wrap.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.
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!