Say what you will about the Grinch, his approach to Christmas was as green as his skin. No cards, no gifts, no travel, no decorations -- but no fun, either. You don't have to live alone in an icy cave, however, to have a green Christmas. Just relax, take it easy, and have a simple, enjoyable Christmas holiday season this year. Fa-who-for-aze!
1. The Un-Christmas
This one's my favorite -- just do less this year. Even if all you do is skip one Christmas or holiday party, or buy one less present, or take one less trip, let that be your gift to yourself. Corporations, advertisers and the general public will do everything in their power to make you feel obligated to run yourself, your family and your credit cards into the ground. It's a slippery slope, and before you know it, you're driving all over town, losing sleep, going broke, running yourself ragged and having a lousy time. This year, however, take a deep breath and escape the insanity by having a calm, quiet, enjoyable holiday.
2. To Gift, or Not to Gift
Gift giving is the one Christmas item over which you have the most control. Many people have found that talking with friends and family about your gift-giving limits before the rush sets in can ease the financial and environmental pain of the holidays. This year, try buying green gifts (many are under $50), making charitable donations to environmental groups, or buying antiques, vintage items or locally made gifts instead of new stuff. Many people would rather you spend time than spend money -- a nice dinner, tickets to a concert or sporting event, a museum pass or a restaurant gift card are a great way of saying "I want to spend time with you." And isn't that what the holidays are really about?
3. It's a Recycled Wrap
The amount of household garbage in the U.S. increases by about one million tons of trash between Thanksgiving and New Year's, according to the EPA, and much of that is Christmas gift packaging. If you're mailing gifts, use recycled packing materials like newspaper and cardboard (please, no Styrofoam packing peanuts!). Shiny, metallic and plastic-coated wrapping paper can't be reused or recycled, but there are lots of wrapping papers and ribbons that are made of 100 percent recycled waste, and gift bags are a great reusable option. If you're feeling creative, think outside the box you're wrapping: You can use old maps, comics, magazines, wallpaper, Christmas cards, crossword puzzles, posters, sheet music, even towels and napkins to wrap a gift.
4. Christmas Tree Pesticides? Oh, Tannenbaum!
There's nothing green about buying a new, artificial Christmas tree that was shipped in from China. They're made of petroleum-based chemicals -- some even contain lead -- and they can't be recycled. The lead content alone is enough to turn your green holiday black.
For a real tree, try decorating a living outdoor tree, and decking your halls with boughs pruned from a live tree. You could also bring a potted tree indoors, and plant it outdoors in the spring. And an organically grown cut tree will spare your family the pesticides and chemical colorants that douse many conventional trees (find an organic grower at Local Harvest). And any cut tree can be "treecycled" into mulch or compost by your local Christmas tree recycling program.
5. LED Christmas Lights
Newer LED lights use just 10 percent of the energy of older incandescent bulbs, and because they run cooler they're also a bit safer. LED lights can be used both indoors and out. If candlelight is more your design look, opt for soy or beeswax candles, which, though a bit more expensive, don't contain the petroleum-based paraffin found in conventional candles -- and make sure all candles have wicks that don't contain lead.
Many other decorations, from Christmas tree ornaments to plastic wreaths, contain heavy metals and other nasty compounds, and most are shipped in from overseas. Keep your holidays healthy and local by making decorations yourself or buying them in your community.
6. Traveling Green Over the Holidaze
Maybe you're just headed to the mall, or perhaps you're shopping in Istanbul this year. Either way, there are options for making your trip as green as possible. Keep your vehicle tuned up to handle winter weather, and in spite of all the holiday madness, try to limit your trips around town as much as possible, if only to avoid mall traffic.
If your travels take you farther afield, make it a low-impact trip by following a few simple green travel tips. Just remember that enjoying the holidays might be easier if you stay local and avoid the airport craziness, flight delays and travel expenses.
7. Christmas Card Sharks
It may not seem like much -- just a few holiday greeting cards -- but multiply that by millions and millions of envelopes and cards and stamps, and you're talking about a vast forest of paper. Email greetings use no paper at all, and a telephone call might be an even more personable way to say "Happy Holidays!"
If you do opt for greeting cards, try making your own, or make that a holiday project for the kids. If you buy cards, look for cards that use soy-based inks, are made of recycled material, and are recyclable (many metallic or plastic cards can't be recycled). And old cards can be reused in a number of clever ways; as gift tags, tree ornaments or wrapping paper.
8. It's Organic Dinner Time!
Holiday feasts are a big part of the season's festivities, and a big source of the environmental impact caused by holiday celebrations. Try something different this year -- consider buying organic food and locally grown turkeys, hams, cheeses, fruits, yams, ciders, wines and liquors. And instead of tossing out an army's worth of leftovers, make smaller, more realistic amounts of food and store leftovers in reusable containers. If you do end up with too much, there are food banks everywhere that would be happy to take your overstock.