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A Green Holiday Season

With its promise of good tidings and joyous family gatherings, the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year. Unfortunately, it can also be the most ecologically irresponsible time of year. As we deck the halls with mega-watt twinkling lights, fiber-optic trees and plastic decorations, we waste energy and contribute to the tons of excess waste dumped in landfills each year. But don’t worry, with a little planning, you can have your fruitcake and eat it too. Celebrate with a more eco-friendly and sustainable Christmas. Here’s how:

Get Creative

Instead of buying non-biodegradable, metallic-dye treated wrapping paper, think outside the gift box and wrap gifts with such household items as pages from glossy fashion magazines, paper bags and aluminum foil. Add some sparkle under the tree by wrapping gifts in aluminum foil, glued with leaves, dried flowers or fruits. The foil can be reused or recycled and plant materials can be composted. Or purchase recycled wrapping paper, which you can recycle or compost after the holidays. Buy inexpensive brown paper gift bags and tie the handles together with twine bows for a rustic, earthy look. Opt for reusable fabric gift bags and stockings or make your own wrapping paper with stencils and patterns from local craft stores.

Recycle

If you don’t already recycle, start now. If your city does not pick up recycling at the curb, find the nearest recycling center and drop off materials when you are in the neighborhood. Many cities recycle holiday trees so that they can be composted into mulch for gardens and parks.

Holiday cards are a wonderful way of connecting with friends and loved ones, but perhaps you can consider an e-mailed greeting this year—saves paper. If you can’t give up these traditional tokens of affection, opt for recycled cards or make your own out of recycled paper. After the holidays, put those old cards to good use. Cut off the fronts and create gift nametags, post cards, dinner place cards and other art projects the whole family can enjoy.

Unfortunately, every year we give and receive at least one unwanted gift. Let your trash become someone else’s treasure by donating unwanted gifts to charities and thrift stores. You can also help others recycle their presents or goods by buying at thrift stores, used book stores and garage sales.

Think outside the mall

Consider giving thoughtful presents that require little or no packaging. Visit your local crafts store and make your own presents. Avoid plastic packaging altogether by giving loved ones gift certificates, a paid trip to a day-spa or homemade food products. For the gardeners on your shopping list, you can’t go wrong with gift certificates to local garden centers. One of the best gifts a gardener can get is a pile of composted manure! Don’t forget native plants as presents—they can carry your good wishes for years to come. Because they’re beautiful, drought resistant and easy to maintain, native plants are the ultimate gifts that keep on giving. You can give planting cards of wildflower seeds—even make your own paper and add seeds of plants native to your region. Make sure you avoid seeds from any invasive plants. Native plants make good container plants as well. Click here to view a complete list of recommended native plant species.

Conserve energy

Add winter sparkle with low voltage holiday lights. Light emitting diode lights (LEDs) use a fraction of the energy that conventional lights use, last longer and emit less heat. Don’t leave lights on all night—use a timer. If you opt for an artificial, pre-lit tree, remember that the manufacturing process requires un-biodegradable petroleum based materials and a significant amount of energy. Potted trees are more eco-friendly because they are renewable resources and can be replanted in gardens. Or substitute a tree-shaped topiary, which can be replanted or composted.