The holidays are upon us. What does this mean for someone trying to live a greener, simpler life? The way Americans typically celebrate produces a lot of trash, so I see this as an opportunity for people to rethink how they celebrate the season and help to influence friends and families, too.
The bonus is a simpler, greener approach that can save money, nice in these tough economic times.
Just how much waste do we create? From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, Americans throw away 25 percent more trash than any other time of year, approximately 1 million additional tons of refuse each week.
The amount of paper used to wrap presents equates to more than 50,000 trees. Nearly 125,000 tons of plastic packaging are discarded during the holidays. On average, holiday sales have increased 4.4 percent per year from 1998 to 2007. Shoppers spent $460 billion during the 2007 holiday season.
Here are some simple ways to reduce waste and save money:
• Give gifts such as food, wine, gift certificates and movie passes.
• Give of your time – gift certificates for help with babysitting, gardening and other household chores; or an outing to a zoo, museum, park or picnic.
• Give homemade gifts – cookies, jams, a family calendar, framed photo, candles, soap, etc.
• Buy gifts minimally packaged to reduce plastic and cardboard waste.
• Give away the last great book you read to someone with similar tastes and share a conversation about the book over a cup of coffee or tea.
• Have a “regift/white elephant/homemade item” swap with your friends and their children instead of buying something new. We all have good-quality things in our homes that we don’t use and that others will enjoy. Used toys, clothes and books can be great gifts.
• Send e-cards instead of paper cards and save cards you receive to use as tags for next year’s gifts.
• If you receive new items to replace the old, free-cycle them locally – one person’s junk is another’s treasure. Visit www.freecycle.org – for electronics, use Earth 911’s http://search.earth911.com.
• Wrap presents with newspaper comics, cloth, brown-paper bags or recycled wrapping paper.
• Take reusable bags when you go shopping, or skip the gifts and make a donation in your friend’s name to a charitable organization.
There are other ways to make the holidays greener that save energy and have other positive impacts. Installing light-emitting diodes (LEDs) instead of incandescent holiday lights provides an almost immediate return on investment. Or, forgo lights altogether outside the home and save a bucket-load of energy and money.
Avoid electronic toys for children to save energy and boost their creativity. Books, marbles, a telescope, building blocks, art supplies, magnifying glasses, yo-yos and science kits are possibilities.
Buy locally made products to reduce the impact of shipping. Support local stores and the local economy rather than going to big-box stores or online.
In our family, we are making a concerted effort to implement many of these ideas, getting our friends on board, too. Consumable gifts are my all-time favorites – they’re even better when homemade.
Ask yourself, “What will be my contribution to a more sustainable holiday season and new year? For the new year, I encourage you to get involved with GreenTown Los Altos and one of our many initiatives to help mobilize our town’s efforts to save water, waste and energy – one step at a time, one person at a time.