Today’s Because You Asked post was written by and is republished with permission from EarthTalk®, from the editors of E – The Environmental Magazine.
Dear EarthTalk: The holidays can be so wasteful. What are some ways we can green our celebrations this year? – Belinda M., Los Angeles, CA
Dear Belinda: Sipping eggnog, listening to carols by the fire, and enjoying the beauty of colorfully decorated homes are all warm memories conjured by the holiday season. Yet with the rising popularity of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, millions of people are now more focused on the season’s commercialism than time with friends and family. The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that holiday sales this year will add up to $630.5 billion. As you point out, all of this shopping generates a lot of trash. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans throw away approximately one million extra tons of trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
“Simplify the Holidays,” an e-booklet from the Center for a New American Dream (CNAD), reports that 9 in 10 Americans believe holidays should be more about family and caring for others, and less about giving and receiving gifts. Still, the NRF reports that U.S. consumers plan to spend 3.6% more on holiday shopping this year than last year. Check out “Simplify the Holidays” to find meaningful ways to have fun with less stuff this season, including ideas for simple gifts, low-waste wrapping, ways to connect with your children during the holidays, and more. CNAD asks readers to “consider creating holidays that instill more meaning into the season and encourage more sharing, laughter, creativity, and personal renewal.”
“It’s not about depriving yourself of things during the holiday season,” emphasized Wen Lee, Director of Online Media and Engagement with CNAD. “It’s about refocusing on things that really matter, and reducing stress.”
Additional easy and stress-free ways to respect the environment during the holidays include carrying reusable totes when shopping for gifts, and using LED lights on your trees or home, which last 20-30 years and require two percent of the electricity of conventional lights. Also, consider sending an e-card as a no-waste alternative to one of the 2.6 billion paper holiday cards sold each year (which could fill a football field 10 stories high!).
Further, the 33 million Christmas trees the EPA estimates are sold in North America each year don’t have to end up in landfills. See if your area has recycling programs that turn Christmas trees into wood chips and mulch. Some companies will home-deliver full-size, potted live trees and pick them up after New Year’s and re-plant them. And with nearly 60 percent of Americans admitting they receive unwanted gifts during the holidays, asking friends and family what gifts they really need or want is an easy way to save waste and minimize time-consuming returns.
Greening your holiday season certainly helps the environment, but research shows it can also be good for personal and family well-being: A 2002 study found that “lower well-being occurred when spending money and receiving gifts” dominated the holidays, and that “[e]ngaging in environmentally conscious consumption … predicted a happier holiday.”