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Recycled wrapping paper. Via Grit.com

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, the holiday frenzy has officially descended upon us.  Although the holidays are often known as a time of generosity, they have a profound negative impact on the environment.

The nature of the technocentric society we live in today coupled with the economic systems that sustain multinational manufacturing amount to a considerable amount of waste generation over the holiday season, in addition to a surge in greenhouse gas emissions.  The holidays, however, don’t have to be such an assault on the environment.  Rest assured, you can still celebrate the holidays as you normally do and reduce your environmental impact.  All it takes is a few minor adjustments to normal holiday-time behaviors and rituals.

Look locally: we’re certainly not suggesting that you forgo giving gifts, and of course there are many items that currently do not have eco-friendly alternatives.  However, for some items on your holiday checklist, there are many viable options that have lesser environmental impact, such as handmade and artisan goods.

Quality handmade apparel from an etsy shop

Consider checking out an indie craft fair in your city, or visiting websites that offer handmade or vintage items, such as etsy and shophandmade.com.  Most gifts purchased in a contemporary store or shopping mall are manufactured overseas, and then must travel thousands of miles to their respective destinations.  Buying a locally-made gift will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions needed to transport the product overseas.  In addition, many shop owners on sites like etsy produce up-cycled goods: waste items or useless materials converted into new products of better quality.  Many people will appreciate the individuality and uniqueness of gifts sourced from these local crafters.  Local, handmade garments are often one-of-a-kind, whereas an item of clothing purchased from the mall may pop up in several of your friends’ wardrobes this season.

Buy online: e-commerce has been found to have a lesser environmental impact than traditional retail shopping.  Consider how many people will be scrambling from shopping mall to shopping mall this holiday season.  Transportation of consumers to retail locations is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions.  However in most cases, delivery of items purchased online is so efficient in terms of the number of items delivered per each mile traveled, that greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced.  According to a Carnegie Mellon study, delivery trucks drop off on average one item per each 0.1 to 1 mile traveled.  In addition, most traditional brick-and-mortar retailers often have an intermediary step in transportation: items are often shipped from distributors to regional warehouses, and then finally to the stores, whereas several e-commerce sites such as buy.com ship directly from the distribution partners to the consumer. Traditional retail stores also expend considerable amounts of energy on overhead and display features, i.e. lighting, air conditioning, and eye-catching signs and advertisements. If you decide to purchase gifts online, just make sure to opt for ground shipping, as air transportation uses up significantly more fuel.

Gifts wrapped in fabric. Via modernecolife.com

Reuse gift wrap materials and shopping bags:  According to the EPA, an additional million tons of household waste are generated between Thanksgiving and New Years Day in America.  Thankfully, there are plenty of aesthetically pleasing gift wrap options that don’t have to get tossed immediately after the unwrapping action.  Consider re-using  wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, and gift bags, or wrapping presents with fabric scraps or even comic strips and posters.  If you’d prefer opting for new giftwrap, consider purchasing recycled wrapping paper.  Check out eartheasy and greenfieldpaper.

 An easy way to avoid accumulating plastic shopping bags during the holiday season: leave a few canvas bags or even paper grocery bags in your car or your purse.  That way you will have them on hand, even if you make an impromptu stop at the mall. 

-DIY Holiday Cards: An inordinate amount of resources goes into the production of store-bought greeting cards.  Why not consider a more personalized approach?  Family members and friends will often be delighted by home-made cards, which can make use of recycled paper, old posters, calendars, magazines etc.  Another option that has taken off in recent years is the e-card.  Countless sites offer free and often funny and endearing e-cards, which eliminate paper waste completely.

Invest in more energy-efficient lighting: Holiday lights have come a long way from the archaic Christmas bulbs that continue to grace grandma’s house from November to June year after year.  Consider purchasing LED holiday lights: they use up to 95% less energy than traditional holiday bulbs, and will amount to considerably less in energy costs.  They are readily available at local hardware stores, or consider ordering online at holidayleds.com and the omniferous amazon.com.

LED holiday lights use up to 95% less energy than traditional bulbs. Via buychristmaslights.com

Recycle old technology to make way for new: It is almost inevitable that some type of electronic device will end up on your holiday shopping list.  It’s also likely that you have a stash of outdated, obsolete electronic items gathering dust in the back of a drawer.  It turns out that many of these items can be recycled rather than hoarded or tossed. Want to recycle your used electronics and help raise money for environmental education?  Visit Planet Green Recycle, download the free shipping label, ship off your defunct junk, and Planet Green will donate funds to Havasi Wilderness Foundation.

 *All items sent to Planet Green are either refurbished, recycled, or remanufactured in the United States withR2 CertifiedPartners.

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