Turning green for the holiday season shouldn’t make anyone feel like a Grinch. It might actually be the best present you can give to planet Earth.
But it’s not easy. Between Thanksgiving and New Years, Americans increase their electricity consumption by a whopping 27 percent, creating an environmental Nightmare Before Christmas.
With a little extra effort, however, your holiday season can be as green as your Christmas tree.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually better to have a live tree than a fake fir. Plastic trees are made of non-biodegradable petroleum plastic (PVC) and require even more fuel to be manufactured. Though they supposedly last forever, they tend to be discarded in landfills after just a few years due to diminished attractiveness. The shipping also has to be counted: about 85 percent are from China.
Live trees, on the other hand, are generally grown on special tree farms in order to be harvested, so cutting them down doesn’t cause harm. While alive, they improve air quality. And last year, 93 percent were recycled into mulch. There are more than 4,000 “treecycling” centers in the U.S., and recycling your tree after the season greatly reduces its impact.
The lights decorating that tree (and the whole house) also can add an exorbitant amount to your energy bill. For those who don’t want to become the neighborhood Scrooge, just unplugging lights during the day saves energy. That goes for Menorahs, electric candles and any other twinkling decorations. Going a step further, LED lights are 90 percent more efficient than traditional lights. A Department of Energy study showed that if everyone replaced conventional holiday lights with LEDs, it would save at least 2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in a month, enough to power 200,000 homes for a year.
Now to what’s obviously the best part of the holidays: the presents. All those gifts on your wish lists may be lumps of coal for the environment. The shipping alone takes its toll, as many of the gadgets awaiting you are produced in China or Japan.
Wrapping paper is another undercover danger. Americans throw away 1 million extra tons of garbage each week between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, including holiday wrapping and packaging. All that snowflake-printed paper adds up to 25 percent more trash than usual.
This year, limit that figure by using newspapers or recycled bags instead of gift wrapping. Instead of buying expensive holiday cards, just write a note directly on the paper. Gift wrapping can be reused also; just don’t rip the paper, and it can be used next year.