Green Tips for the Holidays: How to Celebrate the Season Sustainably

Dec 19, 2012 12:15 PM ET

Kaiser Permanente’s “Green Resource Center”

It’s that time of year when many of us will haul out our holiday decorations, purchase gifts, throw holiday parties and gather family and friends around for feasts that celebrate the harvest and bounty from the year’s activities.

Whether it’s in the form of gift-giving, sharing a festive meal, decorating or travel, there are many ways to celebrate the season that don’t create unnecessary waste.

Here are some suggestions for having a happy holiday season, while keeping your environmental footprint to a minimum. We’d like to thank the Green Team from the Kaiser Permanente San Rafael Medical Center for sparking these great ideas.

There are many eco-friendly alternatives to holiday decorations and rituals. Consider these greener approaches:

  • Use LED holiday lights to save energy and increase safety (LED bulbs are cooler, thus reducing the risk of holiday tree fires).
  • Purchase or make your own all-natural beeswax candles.
  • Avoid using plastic or disposable decorations that aren’t recyclable.

Holiday Trees
Holiday trees are a festive way to add a touch of nature to your decor and honor the traditions of this time of year. The question of whether a real tree or an artificial tree is best for the environment can be a complex one. When making a decision about what kind of holiday tree to get for your household, keep these thoughts in mind:

  • If you’re choosing a real tree, consider where the tree is being sourced. Look for trees grown organically or without chemicals and pesticides. Get trees that are sourced locally. Consider recycling or mulching the tree once the holidays are over.
  • Choosing a real potted tree (with the roots intact) could be an even better option; plant or donate it and you’ll be allowing it to flourish and grow long after the holiday celebrations have faded.
  • Choosing an artificial tree might allow a real tree to continue living. But make sure you avoid ones made with chemicals such as PVC, a plastic that harms humans and the environment. Choose trees made from natural materials where possible.
  • Skip the fake snow on your holiday tree (often known as “flocked” trees) as it is often made from environmentally harmful chemicals that are also bad for our health.
  • Try something altogether different and build your own tree out of pruned tree branches or other crafty materials.

Gift Giving
Reflect, and consider what the holidays mean to you. Take a pause before each holiday purchase. Gifts can be given in many forms:

  • Take someone on an adventure; give the gift of time together.
  • Host an exchange and swap delicious and healthy treats, clothes, toys or recipes.
  • Give handmade or homemade items.
  • Buy locally made or eco-friendly products.
  • Purchase reusable items, like travel mugs, that help reduce waste year round.
  • Replace paper cards and letters with e-cards and emails.
  • Consider consumable gifts like food treats or flowers from your local farmers market.
  • Include rechargeable batteries for electronic gifts, for a gift that keeps giving.

Gift Wrapping
Did you know that shiny or glittery wrapping paper is not recyclable because of the ink and chemicals used to process it? Create beautiful gift wrap that is recyclable or reusable:

  • Save and reuse paper gift bags each year.
  • Wrap gifts in the tissue and bags given out by department stores.
  • Make your own reusable gift bags using fabric scraps, tablecloths, old maps, newspaper or decorate old grocery bags and use them as wrapping paper.
  • Ask mail centers and shipping stores if they will take boxes and packing material like foam peanuts for reuse.

This year, give yourself the gift of good health. You can enjoy the treats of the season while still keeping your health goals on track:

  • Check out Dr. Preston Maring’s tips on healthy, seasonal holiday foods.
  • Use reusable cups, plates, flatware, and napkins when hosting an event with food.
  • Plan meals carefully to avoid excessive leftovers that get thrown away, or send leftovers home with your guests.

Whether you’re headed over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house, or to a beach along the coast, look for ways to reduce your use of fossil fuels and make your trip stress-free.

  • Avoid vehicle trips when possible, especially shorter trips that can be made by bike or by foot.
  • When it’s not possible to avoid the car, try carpooling or using public transportation.

No matter what you do this holiday season, you can celebrate it and protect the environment. May it be a season of joy, warmth and total health spent in the company of family, friends and loved ones.

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