The holiday season is a time of sharing, preparing, celebrating and buying. And it has become, increasingly over the past century, a time of excess consumption. This year, with concerns about the economy, personal finances, and the state of the environment, many people are looking for ways to strech their dollars and green their holiday habits.
While I admit that I dive unabashedly into the holidays and all their trappings, I have always tried to offset my excesses through greener practices. Here are some of the things that I’ve been doing over the years to lessen my impact on the environment. Because my mantra is “it’s all about balance,” especially during the holidays, all of these ideas are relatively easy to implement, and generally don’t take any more time than their un-green equivalents. And several of these options cost the same or less than taking the traditional commercial route.
1. Rethink your Holiday greeting cards. I have several friends who have switched over to email-only holiday greetings, which definitely saves paper. However, if you are more traditional, there are earth-friendly ways to send your season’s greetings. You can purchase cards made from 100% recycled paper, or cards from organizations that donate money to environmental or social causes. I’ve always either made my own cards (on recycled paper) or purchased UNICEF cards, as they have great designs and the money goes to helping children throughout the world. Their cards are available online or at Pier 1 Imports. If you’re opting for gorgeous recycled cards, Fig+Sage offers some great recommendations.
2. Use last year’s holiday cards as gift tags. One of my parents’ friends, an artist, has always done
this, and it looks great. Just cut off the front of the card and write your message on the back. You
can either tape the card to the gift, or punch a hole in it and string a ribbon through.
3. Replace those environmentally-unfriendly paper goods. Several years ago, I purchased about 50
dessert-sized plates from a discount store, and have used them for parties in place of paper plates. They’ve paid for themselves over and over. If you don’t want to do dishes, there are several brands of eco-friendlier disposable goods, including compostable plastic plates and utensils. Whole Foods
carries some, and Green Party Goods has a great selection.
4. Get creative with wrapping paper. In the past I’ve used beautifully printed cloth napkins or larger
cloths and tied them with ribbon. I’ve also bought reusable cloth gift bags at Whole Foods. I also package collections of smaller items in baskets or other reusable containers. I’ve also taken plain kraft paper and printed it with rubber stamps or potato prints. This is a great activity for kids, as it allows them to be involved in holiday preparations and it’s easy for them to do. There are several companies that offer recycled wrapping paper. National Geographic has an article on earth-friendly paper and cards. Or try wrapping your gifts in plantable seeded wrapping paper from Bloom!
5. Keep the ribbon and bows to a minimum. We use tons of petroleum-based plastic ribbon in this
country every holiday season — I heard on the radio the other day that it’s enough to wrap around the entire planet! Replace the plastic with raffia, twine or nothing at all. I often decorate packages
with an ornament or candy cane.
6. Purchase gifts that do dual duty by patronizing shops that benefit non-profits. When I lived in
Connecticut, I would make an annual trip to the Save the Children gift shop. They have a huge
selection of items and all profits go to their international aid projects. I now shop at Ten Thousand
Villages, a fair trade organization that represents artisans from over 30 countries.
7. Buy a tree locally, or better yet, buy a live one. Look for local tree farms where you can cut your
own (when I lived in Connecticut, we would cut our own tree at a local organic farm), or nurseries
that sell live trees, which you can plant in your yard after the holidays (that’s what my parents did
every year). The National Audubon Society has an article on live versus cut, and how to find a local
8. Buy gifts locally. Every year I make it a point to patronize craft fairs and local artisans. I also go to Etsy and do a search for artisans located in my area. Buying locally is better for the environment and for the local ecomony.
9. Make your own gifts. They don’t have to be time-consuming or expensive — you can do something simple like making a forced bulb planter, or homemade cookie mix in a reusable jar. You can find tons of great, easy ideas in books at the library or search on Google for “homemade christmas gifts.”