Green Holiday Basics

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It’s time to sort through the family casserole recipes, get out the decorations from your attic and start stockpiling your gift wrap. With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we often overlook our everyday green habits. But even the deepest snow can’t cover your environmental footprint.

While  you’re waiting in line doing your holiday shopping or preparing a feast for the family, keep in mind three general principles that can help guide you towards an eco-friendly season:

1. Be Waste-Wise

Instead of purchasing new wrapping paper, try wrapping your presents with colorful magazine pages or newspaper. Photo: Flickr/chatirygirl

Instead of purchasing new wrapping paper, try wrapping your presents with colorful magazine pages or newspaper. Photo: Flickr/chatirygirl

Did you know that household waste increases 25 percent each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day? This makes sense when you think about all the little extras that occur during the holidays, such as more get-togethers and increased traveling.

Add in the extra wrapping paper you might use and food waste from holiday cooking, and your household waste may have more than tripled in just one weekend.

Reducing your waste starts in the store. Some greeting cards, gift wrap and gift bags are recyclable, but most traditional trappings are not because of their non-paper additives (recorded a song lately for someone’s birthday on a card or used a big bow on a box?).

Also, see where you can purchase holiday items in bulk, to reduce excess waste from packaging and wraps that can’t be tossed into your recycling bin.

When adorning the house with holiday greens, keep in mind that these products can be composted. Your community may host programs or events to collect Christmas trees for mulch, and check to see if garlands and wreaths are also accepted.

Fun Fact: Gift cards are easy to dispose of as they are made of PVC plastic, which is infinitely recyclable and can be turned into new cards. Once you redeem the total value of the card, ask to keep it for recycling as some retailers simply toss them into the trash.

2. Keep Your Cool

Photo: Flickr/mulmatsherm

The residential sector consumes 35 percent of available energy to consumers. Photo: Flickr/mulmatsherm

As the temperature falls over the next few months, adjust your thermostat accordingly. Remember that the more guests in your home, the lower your thermostat can go. After all,  more people generate more body heat, and you’ve probably got your oven running for some tasty holiday baking, which warms your kitchen as you cook.

Adjusting the thermostat by just two degrees is the equivalent of losing 2,000 pounds of carbon emissions annually and almost $100 in energy costs. That’s the same as driving a car more than 3,000 miles!

You can also turn down the temperature while you’re asleep or out of the house. Make it the last step when you hit the sack or run out the door – why pay for what you won’t use?

Fun Fact: If you really want to optimize your home temperature, consider a programmable thermostat to automatically set the temperature for various times of day. They save an average of $180 a year and cost about $100.

3. Shop Smart

Photo: Flickr/Pieter Musterd (very busy)

Try using public transportation to make this year's shopping trips. A 10 percent increase in transit ridership nationwide would save 135 million gallons of gasoline a year. Photo: Flickr/Pieter Musterd (very busy)

No matter the state of the economy, people are going to shop during November and December. That doesn’t mean you need to shop in-store and stand in line to ship packages, amounting to a waste of time and fuel.

Give online shopping a chance this year. Due to lower overhead, you can often find better deals than you would in-store. Don’t believe us? To have 10 pounds of packages shipped by overnight air uses 40 percent less fuel than driving yourself round-trip to the mall, according to the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions.

Even if you prefer to shop in-store, you can scout deals online to cut down on searching and drive time. Many stores will also price match for you, so you may be able to find a collection of great deals in one location.

When it comes time to ship, avoid holiday lines and unnecessary travel. Use the U.S. Postal Service to order packaging products online and have your postal carrier pick them up. They’ll be coming to your house anyway, why not save yourself the time it would take to drive to a physical location and wait in line?

Also, consider purchasing the warranty when you buy a new product. It may seem expensive at the time, but you’re taking steps to repair something instead of replacing it in the future, which is always the preferred method in the green sphere.

Or, you can invest in the concept of Ownership 2.0. Essentially:

  1. You pay a one-time fee when the product is purchased to “lock-in” a trade-in value.
  2. The trade-in value offers a guaranteed percentage of the purchase price that goes down based on length of time you own the product.

Companies such as TechForward offer different plans based on the type of gadget you want to “insure” and the amount of time you want to keep it.

Fun Fact: The shipping industry emits twice the greenhouse gases as the airline industry. Just because you’re choosing not to travel this holiday season doesn’t mean you aren’t contributing to pollution.

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Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.
Trey Granger

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  1. Well, I’m going a new direction with Christmas Cards this year. This is a VERY hard change for me, because I LOVE to write up a Christmas letter with pictures and mail to EVERYONE! But, even using recycled products for this project, isn’t really helping my carbon footprint reduction 🙁

    Therefore, I just signed up for a great online greeting card program that is done all via internet. The selection of cards for Christmas, birthday’s, thank you, etc, is quite significant. Plus, they are animated and very unique. I had never heard of this company until I received a card via a LinkedIn associate this week. The link to the site is:

    I am still going to have to put together a letter of sorts and probably mail it out to those, who are not connected to the internet. But, that will be a very small number. Also, I’m thinking that I’ll probably transfer my letter onto one of my auto-responder systems and send it, to those receive my new virtual Christmas cards.

    Besides the savings in paper, postage, time, etc., the bigger picture is that I’ll be creating less waste. That’s my newest gift to this beautiful planet.

  2. The whole “global warming” apperation has been almost scaring me a bit lately, keeping me up at night, distracting me from my studies, and so on. It is nice to know that there are websites, like this one, that can teach us how to reduce our carbon footprint, and ease our consciences. Thank you.

  3. Pingback: The Obamas’ Recycled Holiday Festoons -

  4. Over at THTL we really believe in sustainable holidays. Waste increases over 50% just between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Our favorite tips include using a real Christmas tree, celebrating with neighbors, and getting outdoors (yes, even in the snow!)

    The suggestion about the thermostat is a great one. Why do people get so angry about wearing a coat indoors? It’s not a big deal to layer inside when you’re just going to throw on more to go outside anyways. Getting used to it now will equal savings for years to come!

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