According to the Use Less Stuff Report, Americans increase their trash by 25 percent each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day--approximately 1 million extra tons of trash per week. The report also states that the 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high! "Cyber Monday" is typically a big day for online holiday shopping, but it is also a good time to consider how you can be more environmentally friendly in your holiday celebrations.
Cindy Parker, MD, MPH, co-director of the Program for Global Sustainability and Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, suggests, "Try out a few of these ideas as a way to take better care of our environment and shift the focus from consumption to what's really important—showing your friends and family how much you care about them and sharing the spirit of the season."
- Give recycled gifts such as antiques, family heirlooms, or pre-owned items.
- Make edible gifts such as breads, cookies, dried fruits, or nuts. Package them in reusable tins, baskets, jars, or decorative bags or boxes. Sew, knit, or paint a homemade gift. Record a personal message for family and friends. Write a poem, sing a song, or arrange an outing.
- For kids, consider giving an environmental excursion, such as whale-watching or camping trips, or make a gift to charity in a loved one's name.
- Give non-material gifts such as tickets to an event, dance lessons, a spa visit, transportation passes, or membership to a museum or gym. Offer your time for babysitting, dog walking, or car washing.
- Avoid gifts that will be thrown away, use excessive packaging, or are made from environmentally sensitive materials, particularly tropical wood such as mahogany, teak or rosewood.
- Choose durable, energy-efficient gifts that use wind-up power or use rechargeable batteries.
- Buy gifts made from recycled materials or use natural materials such as unbleached cotton or beeswax.
- Combine shopping trips or share rides with friends, family, and neighbors to save fuel and have more fun.
- Shopping for gifts online reduces energy consumption and air pollution.
- Use your own reusable bags for shopping or combine purchases from different stores into one bag.
- To wrap your gifts, buy recycled wrapping paper or add a personal touch by using old maps, sheet music, newspaper comics, pictures from old calendars, or colorful ads from old magazines.
- Wrap presents in useful items such as scarves, dishtowels, or handkerchiefs.
- Use popcorn or newspaper for packing and reuse your packing materials. You can also reuse boxes, baskets, bags, and tins. Old cards can be recycled into gift tags.
- Send email holiday greeting cards. According the Environmental News Network, Americans send 750 million greeting cards each year. They estimate that a 10 percent reduction could save an estimated 30,000 trees.
- Buy a living Christmas tree and plant it outside after Christmas. Make sure you dig the hole before the ground freezes.
- If you buy a cut Christmas tree, take it to a tree collection center so it will be recycled for mulch for use in city parks and does not become part of a landfill.
- When decorating the tree, minimize the size and amount of electric lights to save energy. Use decorations like strings of popcorn or dried cranberries that can be fed to birds after the holidays.
- Operating lights for no more than six evening hours a day keeps energy use and costs under control. Timers are a simple and safe way to turn lights off. For safety, always unplug lights before going to bed or leaving home.
- Use energy-efficient lighting. LED light strings may cost more initially, but use one-tenth the energy of regular lights and will save you money after just one or two seasons of use. Be aware that “icicle-style” lights use more lights per linear foot than regular light strands and use more energy.
- Set out containers to collect bottles and cans for recycling.
- Use regular dishes instead of disposable ones. If you must use disposables, use dishes made out of recycled paper and compost them.
- Donate leftover food to local food banks and shelters.
- Turn down the heat a few degrees before guests arrive. All those bodies will warm up the room.
- Avoid using disposable cameras for pictures.
Above all, remember the spirit of the season is more than consumption. Enjoy sharing time with your friends and family!Every Monday, the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project, part of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, offers tips for preventing disease and injury, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Check back each week for new tips or visit our archive.