Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Holidays

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huntingforachristmastree‘Tis the season to be kind to the environment. Instead of faux Christmas trees, energy-draining light displays and gifts wrapped in eight layers of paper, celebrate the season by making a few eco-friendly changes to your holiday celebrations.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few tips for a green Christmas.

Go online to check the proofs of your holiday card photos

Sending cards with family photos is a great way to spread holiday cheer – and much more personal than store-bought cards. Instead of having the store print a copy of your photo proof, check it online. Proofing your holiday greetings electronically will help cut down on the use of chemical inks and heavy-duty photo paper. Once you’ve picked the photo for your holiday cards, only order as many cards as you plan to send to eliminate waste.

Order LED holiday lights

Turn your home into one of the most festive and eco-friendly on the block with LED holiday lights. Most retailers stock energy-efficient holiday lights made with light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, that are 90 percent more efficient than traditional Christmas lights and last longer – up to 10,000 hours compared with 5,000 hours for incandescent bulbs.

Put your holiday lights on timers

Leaving your holiday lights turned on 24 hours a day will quadruple your energy costs - and create four times the pollution – as leaving them on for six hours. Set your timer to turn the lights on at dusk and leave them on until you go to bed. You’ll be able to enjoy the lights all evening without burning energy overnight.

Make plans to carpool to a Christmas party or holiday church services

Call family and friends and suggest going to a Christmas party together, instead of driving separately. Or, call an elderly member of your church and offer to pick her up for holiday services. You’ll reduce your carbon footprint and help spread the spirit of the season.

Decorate with natural materials

You can make beautiful holiday decorations with items found in nature: A bowl of evergreen boughs and fresh fruit, a basket filled with fallen branches, winter berries and pinecones and seasonal plants like poinsettias make inexpensive holiday décor. Once the holidays are over, your decorations can be added to the compost pile.

Use eco-friendly packing materials to mail gifts

Mail your holiday gifts in boxes padded with recycled newspaper or the leftover paper in your shredder. You can also use real peanuts and include a note asking the recipient to feed them to the squirrels once the box is unpacked. These green materials will protect your packages just as well as bubble wrap or Styrofoam but have none of the negative impacts on the environment. Styrofoam accounts for up to 25 percent of the waste in our landfills. When it’s burned, Styrofoam releases over 90 different toxins including dioxin, a known carcinogen.

Buy a cut Christmas tree

Nearly all cut Christmas trees were grown on tree farms, which means that their stock is replenished yearly and forests aren’t depleted. Cut trees are a much greener choice than artificial trees that are made with petroleum-based materials and often shipped thousands of miles before they reach your living room. Unlike artificial trees, which eventually end up in the landfill, cut trees can be recycled after the holidays.

Create a homemade garland for the Christmas tree

An old-fashioned string of popcorn and cranberries will look great on your tree. Once the holidays are over, you can hang the garland in an evergreen tree in your backyard and let the birds feast on your creation. An added bonus: It’s a great afternoon craft project for the entire family!

Shop for holiday gifts that don’t require batteries

Nearly 40 percent of all battery sales occur during the holidays. Eventually, worn out batteries end up in the landfill where they leach toxic metals into the soil and groundwater. You can help keep batteries from going to the landfill by choosing holiday gifts that don’t require batteries. If you do buy gifts that require batteries, give rechargeable batteries.

Wrap presents in gift bags

Once you tear the wrapping paper off of a holiday gift, it ends up in the recycle bin but gift bags can be used over and over again. Look for gift bags made with recycled content or purchase plain paper bags and decorate them yourself with recycled holiday cards. If every family in the U.S. reused two feet of holiday ribbon, it would save 38,000 miles of ribbon – enough to tie a bow around the entire planet.

Recycle your Christmas tree

After the holidays are over, don’t put your Christmas tree at the curb. Instead of taking up space in the landfill, trees can be ground into woodchips and used to mulch your garden or prevent erosion at a local watershed. Go to and enter your zip code to find out where to have your Christmas tree recycled.

Jodi Helmer is the author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference (Alpha, 2008). Visit her online at

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