The holidays are a time for giving, eating and spending time with loved ones.
Unfortunately, they can also involve more waste and excess than other times of year. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go green this season.
Below are some tips to help families have a eco-friendly Christmas.
Opt For A Real Christmas Tree
“Real trees are much more green than fake ones,” Bill Ulfelder, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in New York, told HuffPost. Ulfelder said there are many reasons for this, including the fact that real trees clean the air, protect water and provide wildlife habitats.
“They’re also really important to our economy. There are more than 15,000 tree farms in the country, generally family owned. Growing and harvesting Christmas trees can provide 100,000 jobs a year. It’s a billion dollar industry,” he added.
Fake trees, on the other hand, tend be plastic and manufactured overseas. “They’ve been found to contain things that can cause health issues, and they have pretty big carbon footprints given we’re shipping them into the United States,” said Ulfelder. “Hands down, real trees are the way to go. And they just smell so much better.”
Use LED Lights
Light Emitting Diode or LED lights consume significantly less energy than their traditional counterparts. Being more energy efficient, LED lights are better for the environment and will also save you money on your electric bill.
You can also just opt for fewer strands or buy solar-powered Christmas lights to decorate your house.
Be Mindful About Gifts
Ulfelder recommends making good choices while shopping for holiday gifts. In some cases, that may involve buying less, going local or choosing items made from recycled materials.
Another way to reduce waste is to steer away from object-based gifts. You can plan experiences, donate to charity in someone’s name or plant trees.
Choose Eco-Friendly Wrapping Paper
“It’s really important to recycle ... to manage all the stuff we produce in great quantities to have a lighter footprint on the planet,” said Ulfelder. “I try to choose the wrapping papers I know are recyclable,” he added, noting that some have materials that make them harder to recycle.
He said recycling becomes “doubly important” around the holiday season because of the high quantities of disposable items purchased.
You can also save and reuse gift bags, ribbons and bows you receive.
Don’t Forget The Food
The holidays are a time for big gatherings and indulgent meals, so it’s important to be mindful about food waste as well. Try not to buy more than you can eat, and make use of leftovers after big meals.
There are many environmental benefits to purchasing produce grown locally and planning more plant-based meals as well.
“If it’s an option where you live, compost whatever is left over,” added Ulfelder. “It’s a good way to minimize waste.”
Calculate Your Carbon Footprint
The end of the year is a good time to calculate your carbon footprint and offset it.
“All of us in our daily lives as we commute to work and turn on lights, we’re emitting a certain amount of carbon pollution over the course of a year, which is contributing to climate change,” Ulfelder said.
The Nature Conservancy recommends using a carbon footprint calculator like the one the University of California, Berkeley offers on its website. These calculators ask questions about the transportation you use, how many plane trips you took in a year, what your diet consists of and more. They then give an estimate of your carbon footprint.
“You can go to a website like Carbon Fund or Terrapass and contribute in a way that offsets your carbon pollution footprint,” said Ulfelder. “That can be tree planting, promoting renewable energy or other ways.”
“It’s also not a bad gift for folks,” he added. “If you have a sense of what someone’s carbon footprint is, a nice gift to them is saying, ‘Hey, I made you carbon neutral this year by investing in tree planting’ or something like that.”
The holiday season is a great time to connect with nature.
“We may think of the holidays as a time to just be inside, bundled up, but it’s actually a great time to get outdoors,” said Ulfelder, who suggests sledding, snowshoeing and taking walks as nice winter activities.
“There are a lot of benefits to going outside and being outdoors all year round,” he added. “Especially during the stressful holiday season.”