The holiday season can be the happiest time of year - but it also can be the most wasteful. Americans generate about 25 percent more waste than usual - an extra million tons - between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That's a lot of garbage.
If you typically strive to tread lightly on the Earth, you don't necessarily have to abandon your green lifestyle to enjoy the festivities. Consider these simple steps when giving thanks, giving gifts and ringing in the new year.
An evergreen tree is a cherished part of the holiday season for many, but growing, harvesting, transporting, and then tossing a tree - every year - well, that takes a toll. An artificial tree made with plastics lasts for years, reducing waste, water use and cleanup - and it can be displayed for months without the worry of a dry tree and falling needles. New technologies have dramatically improved the look and feel of the plastic needles, branches and trunk, so it's often difficult to notice the difference.
When shopping for holiday light displays both indoors and out, consider LED lights that minimize energy use. LED lights use up to 90 percent less energy, which can translate into big savings on your energy bill over the course of the holiday season. LED lights also are protected by a lightweight, durable plastic casing that makes them weather-resistant, shatter-resistant, and easy to hang. LEDs produce much less heat than a glowing filament - and the plastic casing also is resistant to heat - so the lights remain cool to the touch, even after running for hours.
It's easier than ever to find holiday decorations made with recycled materials. There are plenty of websites that can teach you and your children how to fashion ornaments and decorations out of recycled materials that can live another life.
Elaborate holiday meals and celebrations mean leftovers. Promptly refrigerating your food in airtight, re-sealable plastic storage containers can help keep your food fresh so you can enjoy it longer and reduce food waste. And now you can find storage containers made with recycled plastics. Send your friends and family home from the party with leftovers in plastic zipper bags or in used tubs from margarine or cottage cheese.
Consider giving gifts made with repurposed or recycled materials. An easy way to search online: consider what you want to buy and then add 'recycled' to your search. For example, you now can find more and more high-quality consumer goods - such as clothing, accessories, children's toys, furniture and electronics - that contain recycled plastics, since plastics recycling has grown significantly. There are all sorts of 'eco-gift' options for everyone in your family, so you can give something good while doing something good.
Recycle, recycle, recycle
Recycling programs vary across the country, so determine in advance of your celebrations what materials can be recycled in your community. Place a clearly labeled recycling bin next to the trash can to make recycling easy for you and your guests; that way, you won't have to fish the recyclables out of the trash at the end of your party. Remember you can return plastic bags and product wraps from water bottles, paper towels, diapers, etc., to participating grocery and retail stores (such as Walmart, Target, and Lowe's) for recycling. And you can close the recycling loop by looking for tableware made with recycled plastics, which helps create new uses for this material.
These and other simple steps to save energy and reduce waste can lighten your environmental footprint this holiday season. From decorating the house to choosing gifts, it's fun to get the whole family involved in planning sustainable holiday celebrations - and it's easier than you may think.