1. Think Outside the Box
According to a survey conducted by the American Research Group, Americans plan to spend an average of $801 for 2013 holiday gifts, with those making internet or catalog purchases planning to spend over $1100.1 What will we be giving? Another survey asked that question: gift cards topped the list, followed by electronics, clothing, books, and toys (in that order).2 With the exception of gift cards, most of these gifts come in boxes or packaging that end up in the landfill. But so what? Do boxes and packages make up a significant portion of landfill waste? According to a 2011 report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the largest portion of waste, by weight, in municipal landfills in the United States is, indeed, containers and packaging—30% or 76 million tons.3
So think outside the box. Avoid gifts with excessive packaging or give gifts that don’t even need to be wrapped: a homemade dinner, a house cleaning, concert tickets, or a massage.
2. Recycle your Wrapping
There are no hard statistics for the amount of wrapping paper used by Americans at Christmas. But the wrapping that ends up crumpled in the dumpster is, undeniably, wasteful. Ribbons, bows, and paper that is laminated or coated with foil or glitter cannot be recycled. Save what you can in order to use it next year. According to the Use-Less-Stuff Report, if every family reused two feet of ribbon, the 38,000 miles could tie a bow around our precious planet.4
Find a way to recycle anything that you cannot salvage. Many recycling companies either accept wrapping paper along with routine recyclables or hold collection events. Check with your local recycling facility.
3. Make Christmas Dinner Organic
A common tradition in our country is the Christmas ham. But most hogs in this country are raised in Confinement Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which are an environmental disaster. The Union of Concerned Scientists reports the following:
“CAFOs produce some 300 million tons of untreated manure each year (about twice as much as is generated by the entire human population of the United States)… Manure is often handled, stored, and disposed of improperly, resulting in leakage, runoff, and spills of waste into surface and groundwater…[and] the cost to clean up the contaminated soil under every U.S. hog and dairy CAFO would approach $4.1 billion.” 5
If you don’t want to give up the ham, there are better options. Small pasture operations raise hogs in a more sustainable fashion and avoid the use of antibiotics or growth-promoting drugs. Look for a local farm or ask if your natural grocer has a quality source. If you cannot find a local source, plan ahead next time and order online: Prairie Pride Pork and Flying Pigs Farm will both ship sustainably-raised hams to your door.
You can also come up with a new tradition for Christmas dinner. No matter what you choose, make it a point to use ingredients that are organically or sustainably raised in order to minimize the impact of agricultural chemicals on our planet.
4. Switch to LED lights
Christmas lights are festive and fun. But they are also energy-suckers. LED lights use 80-90% less energy than traditional Christmas lights and last 66 times longer. Click here for a simple comparison of the two. But do not throw your old lights in the trash! Check with your local recycling center or click here for information on a mail-in recycling program for holiday lights.
5. Make a Resolution
I view the holidays not only as a time to celebrate and enjoy the company of loved ones, but also as a time to reflect and commit to creating a better world. In this spirit, I encourage you to take some time to consider what it is you can do in the coming year to love our planet more and preserve what we have left.
You might take some of the recommendations here and commit to carrying them through the entire year: minimize waste, recycle more, choose sustainably-raised foods, or switch to energy-efficient lighting. Maybe you will go so far as to replace your SUV with a Prius.
Let’s commit to saving this planet for our children.
Happy Holidays to You and Yours!
1. 2013 Christmas Gift Spending Plans Stall. American Research Group, Inc. 2013. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://americanresearchgroup.com/holiday/
2. Jasmine W. Gift Giving Statistics: What is Underneath Your Christmas Tree? CreditDonkeycom. 2013. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://www.creditdonkey.com/gift-giving.html
3. Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2011. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2011. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/MSWcharacterization_508_053113_fs.pdf
4. 42 Ways to Trim Your Holiday Wasteline. Use Less Stuff. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://www.use-less-stuff.com/ULSDAY/42ways.html
5. The Hidden Costs of CAFOs: Smart Choices for U.S. Food Production. Union of Concerned Scientists. 2008. Accessed on 12/20/13 at http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/cafo_issue-briefing-low-res.pdf