During this year’s annual Harbor Lights Festival in Kodiak, Marty and I joined hundreds of friends and neighbors to walk the docks and vote for our favorite Christmas-y boat. One little boy looked up at us and with firm conviction declared, “Santa Claus is coming to town!” Yes, Santa Claus is coming to town and as the song says, “He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.”
Most of us love family holiday traditions and potlucks. “In the air, there’s a feeling of Christmas,” that surge of caring and neighborliness that blossoms this time of year. There’s also a surge of—dare I spoil the holiday spirit—of waste. Lots of it. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the volume of household waste generally increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, creating about one million extra tons of waste in the winter wonderland. If all you want for Christmas is to generate less waste and help the planet heal, there are plenty of ways you can go green for the holidays.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
It’s an eye-opening experience to watch kids tear open gift-wrapped packages. Even more enlightening is the appearance of Mount Holiday Debris. Most of that waste (packaging and boxes, greeting cards, used batteries and old electronics), can be recycled, reused or re-gifted, recyclable or not. Here are a few pre-cycling tips:
- Wrap your gifts in earth-friendly wrapping such as bandanas, nautical charts, handkerchiefs, magazines, or newspaper (the comics!) you’ve decorated with hand-stamped designs. Avoid ribbons, bows, greeting cards and wrapping paper that contains metal fibers and glitter.
- Decorate your tree with ornaments, sure, but instead of tinsel, consider strings of popcorn and paper chains from magazines.
- Rather than wrapping gifts for youngsters, hide the presents and turn Christmas morning into a treasure hunt.
- Save wrapping paper, cards and ribbons to use next year.
- Take the Huffington Post’s No Paper Challenge, by Lauren Berg
Deck the Halls!
Turn off (use a timer) or unplug lights during the day to save energy.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!
If you purchased (or harvested) a real Christmas tree or greens, please recycle your tree responsibly.
My true love sent to me
There are plenty of gifts that don’t require lots of packaging or wrapping. Experiential gifts celebrate the gift of giving without the extra waste of packaging and paper. They also provide opportunities for the recipient to experiences new things in the way of music lessons, yoga classes, or event tickets. How about gifts of State Park passes, memberships to local museums, and donating to a local charity in someone else’s name? They all provide ways to invest in your community at the same time.
I love promissory notes, gifts that keep on giving: Notes for cleaning, gardening, admission to workshops, coupons for homemade dinners, family getaways, or sharing hikes with a friend. How about investing in your family and friends by contributing to a child’s savings account or education IRA.
Santa knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake! Being good means making thoughtful and conscious buying/giving choices. Remember, small is beautiful. Storing large items has become the albatross around the neck of many Americans. Honestly folks, we don’t need more stuff. Get this: The average American home size has nearly tripled over the last 50 years and one in ten Americans rent a storage unit. Keep your gift-giving simple. One thoughtful present is better than five wrapped packages of unwanted gifts.
Can we talk briefly about hoarding? It’s a problem for many people around the world. Maybe you know a friend or family member who suffers from “Rubble without a cause.” I won’t get into the dynamics of compulsive hoarding as a disorder except to say that if you can clear out some of the clutter in your home (or be a “clutter buddy” and help someone else do it) and recycle or re-purpose what you can, you will giving in ways you never imagined.
Oh, bring us some … (what is figgy pudding?)
If you’re entertaining this season, here are a few tips to consider:
- Use reusable cups, plates and utensils.
- Set out cloth napkins and tablecloths instead of disposable ones.
- Recycle at your holiday party.
- Prevent food waste with menu planning and smart shopping.
- Buy local foods.
Do you see what I see?
I’ve listed many tips for making this holiday season an extra special, green one. After the holiday dust has settled though (dust is compostable, by the way), consider two things:
- Adopt some of these tips for the whole year
- Using the power of the pen and your buying power to encourage companies to rethink some of their packaging methods. Tell them you want a Christmas that celebrates environmentally friendly lifestyles so that everyone can be singing “Joy to the World!”