10 Easy Ways to Green Up at the Most Wasteful Time of Year (PHOTOS)

christmas waste

It's that season again ... time for the holiday trash to arrive! No, we're not talking about your second cousin twice removed on your father's side (though everybody seems to have one of those in the family, right?).

We're speaking literally here, and the stats are sobering. According to a release from Vanderbilt University, the average American household generates 25 percent more garbage during the holiday season (from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve).

In general, the holidays tend to leave a massive coal-filled stocking (i.e., carbon footprint) with holiday travel, illuminated decorations, wasted food, and excessive waste in general. But if every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

Time to step up with these tips from the sustainability experts at Vanderbilt University and make sure your holidays are not only red, but very, very GREEN.

How are you doing your part for the Earth this holiday?


Image © iStock.com/Allkindza

  • Get Creative With Your Cards


    While e-cards may be replacing "snail" mail, there is still something nice about sending a "real" holiday card. If you want to keep alive the tradition but still be green, consider looking for cards that use vegetable based inks on paper with recycled content (Seltzer makes all of their products, including gift cards, envelopes, and gift wrap, from 100% post-consumer content paper, for example), or buy cards that provide a donation to a favorite charity.

    Also, repurpose the cards you receive by cutting off the front part and using it as a holiday thank-you postcard or a gift tag.

  • Give Locally


    When you're shopping for gifts, consider giving things like local theater or performance tickets, making charitable donations, or giving gift certificates to local vendors. All these things support your community and generate minimal waste.

    Also, try to purchase items locally to help small merchants, drive less, and support the local economy.

  • Don't Just Pitch Your Tree


    The smell of pine is wonderful, but if you just leave your tree curbside after the holidays, you're wasting a chance to go green with your evergreen! Consider buying a live tree with a root ball and replanting it after it's made your season merry. Or recycle your tree into mulch -- many cities and towns offer chipper service after the holidays. 

    Also consider decorating your tree using items that can be reused or repurposed -- such as fruit, small plants, herbs, and pine cones.

  • Consciously Wrap Things Up


    There's nothing like a pretty package all wrapped up and tied with a bow, but all that paper can also be a big waste. Make your holiday a tad greener by choosing wrapping papers that are at least partially made from recycled paper (look for eco-friendly wrapping paper).

    Also consider putting gifts in reusable packaging, such as baskets, bags, or fabric wrappers. Save and reuse gift bags from year to year. 

    Natural fiber raffia works well as a substitute for ribbon and is recyclable too! 

  • Pre-Plan Shopping Trips and BYOB (Bring Your Own Bags)


    Frantically driving all over trying to find the perfect gift is a huge waste of gas (not to mention time and personal energy). Plan ahead and consolidate your shopping trips to minimize your carbon footprint; try to get all of your shopping done at several stores that are near each other. 

    Also, bring your own tote or brown bags in which to carry your purchases. You probably already do it for your groceries, but chances are you forget at the mall ... make it a new holiday habit!

  • Ship Smart & Donate Your Peanuts


    If you are shipping gifts across the country to relatives, try to reuse old boxes and packaging materials. Consider stuffing in newspaper or paper bags for padding instead of non-biodegradable packing materials.

    If you do end up receiving boxes with Styrofoam peanuts (which aren't environmentally friendly), consider donating them; most people don't know this, but any UPS store will accept peanuts for reuse in any quantity and in any container.

  • Limit Your Holiday Lights


    While the twinkle and glow of holiday lights are definitely a magical part of the season, they're also a huge energy drain. Green up your act by buying some LED (light-emitting diode) holiday lights, which use 90 percent less energy than traditional incandescent lights and can last up to 100,000 hours!

    Also conserve energy by only leaving holiday lights turned on for a small period of time each night. Consider placing your lights on self-timers that turn your lights on and off at pre-programmed hours so you don’t forget or leave them on all night.

  • Break Out the Good China


    If there is ever a time to bring out the good stuff, it's the holidays. Using reusable china plates and utensils whenever possible, especially when hosting parties or dinner guests, significantly reduces waste.

    If disposables must be used, look for paper products with a high recycled content (like paper cups or napkins made with recycled paper) or recyclable plastic ware. Also, make it easy for guests to think green by having separate bins for recyclables and recruit the children to help you separate items so they can learn about conservation too!

  • Stop Wasting Food


    While tons of food may seem like a holiday tradition, the amount of waste in this area is astounding. Instead, implement some sustainable cooking practices! 

    When possible try using locally grown and organic food; maybe even hit up your local farmers' market! This greatly reduces the distance the food had to travel to your home, making it fresher, and reducing the environmental impact of that transportation process.

    Also, stop with the overcooking! More food is not a sign of more love. Plan your menus for the right amount of people -- not an army -- to minimize waste, or freeze leftovers immediately so they don't go bad and you can repurpose them later.

    Another option is to consider donating excess food to shelters or food banks (just be sure to call ahead for holiday hours). 

    And try this green party trick ... at gatherings serve bite-sized or finger foods; this minimizes plate and utensil use!

  • Blow It Up & Turn It All Off!


    If you are traveling over the holidays, don't forget to check the air in your tires. This will allow you to get better gas mileage (which is a green practice).

    Also, turn down your electric and gas water heaters to conserve energy and gas. Unplug electronics too (there is a big power drain just from things like your nightlight and bedside clock being left on). And remember to set your home/office thermostat to a lower temperature.

    If you forget all of the above, then you might consider making a charitable contribution to Carbonfund.org, which is all about reducing your carbon footprint where you can, but offsetting it where you cannot. Because if there is one thing we all need, it's a greener New Year!

christmas food thanksgiving going green holiday decorating