The winter holidays typically involve decorating, entertaining and extra food preparation. All of this can consume time and money while negatively impacting the planet. Taking steps to shrink the environmental footprint of seasonal activities can keep the Earth and your wallet greener while simplifying your life.
Lights and Energy
Holiday lights can be energy-hungry, increasing bills, pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions. Switching to light-emitting diodes is an easy fix. They're widely available at local stores and are as stunning as conventional fixtures. Katharine Flanagan, marketing director for Ashland Chamber of Commerce, says the chamber is in the process of converting its Festival of Lights display to LEDs, beginning with 50 wreaths last year.
The U.S. Department of Energy reports that LEDs reduce energy use by 90 percent over conventional fixtures. Larry Giardina, conservation analyst for the City of Ashland, estimates savings of $4 to $20 per month for each 700-bulb array converted to LEDs, depending on the size of the bulbs. Old light strings can be donated to thrift stores or recycled through www.holidayleds.com.
Where LEDs won't work, use compact fluorescent bulbs, which use 75 percent less energy than incandescent options, according to the U.S. government's Energy Star website. Giardina suggests putting displays on a timer to maximize efficiency.
For candles, look for those made locally of beeswax or soy instead of petroleum. You also can buy bulk beeswax to pour your own and make extras for gifts.
Stay warm sustainably by setting thermostats to 68 degrees, heating only spaces that are occupied and using programmable thermostats, if available. For those traveling, Giardina advises shutting off water heaters and turning down thermostats before you leave.
It's easy to forget what's stored away, so check what you have before going shopping. Repurpose everyday items for the holidays, such as adding colorful bows to vases, baskets and furniture. Have fun making your own snowflakes, seasonal shapes, ornaments and displays from reused, recycled and natural materials. Save cards, wrapping paper and bows for crafty reuse next year. For a festive scent, try pine cones, conifer cuttings and other aromatic, seasonal plants such as rosemary.
Check out secondhand stores and tag sales for great finds at budget-friendly prices. When buying new items, select those that are durable — made of natural materials such as wood, glass, metal and plant fibers instead of plastic — and which you plan to use in the long term.
If you're putting up a tree, consider a live one that you can plant later. For cut trees, choose sustainably harvested conifers. Ask retailers about vendor practices or check websites for relevant information. Make boughs and wreaths from trimmings or get locally made items at holiday fairs and retailers.
Be sure to recycle or compost cut trees and other greenery after removing all decorations, including tinsel. Curb-side composting programs and organizations, such as Boy Scouts of America, collect trees in many communities. Ask about programs in your town.
Whatever you celebrate, may it be healthy and happy — for you and the planet.