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Every year around this time we are bombarded by songs, advertisements and shows that make us glaringly aware of the holiday season. We are being pulled in a million different directions to buy this, watch that and eat those (maybe too many of those). Let us add one more voice to the cacophony, but one that says “keep it green.” This holiday season, we can do more than just bring our reusable shopping bags to the store; we can celebrate the entire season with sustainability in mind. Here are some helpful ways to make this a green holiday.
Eat Local. Try to find producers of pork, turkey, root veggies and the Christmas goose from your own community. Not only will you be staying closer to home, but if you buy from a local organic farm you will also get a product that is friendlier for the environment and is likely healthier for you! Check out Local Harvest to find locally produced foods in your area.
Buy Local. You can support your neighbors and reduce your dependence on unsustainable distribution systems when you buy local.
Buy crafts and arts created by local artisans, or toys that are made in a nearby city. Buying toys and other products that have been produced with strict environmental standards are less likely to have contaminants and won’t have to travel around the world before they get to the store. Try some local soaps, lotions or candles made nearby from farm-fresh ingredients. It is likely that they will be less processed, contain fewer chemicals and have a much lower carbon footprint than products you could buy at the big box stores.
Cards and holiday decorations can easily be locally sourced. Look in local shops, farmers markets and craft fairs for unique items to make your house more festive. You can pick up ideas on Pinterest or the MOTHER EARTH NEWS website for holiday decorations to make with friends.
Buy Less. Avoid creating waste in the first place by buying fewer things. Make homemade gifts of cards and food instead. Throw a party for friends so you can spend time together without any of the stress of holiday shopping. Have a cookies and cocoa party where everyone decorates cookies together, makes cards or knits scarves for each other.
Set up a gift exchange with family or friends so that everyone only buys one or two gifts, allowing them to reduce waste while also saving money. This often allows people to spend more money on the one or two gifts they do buy, so they can afford to purchase items that may be more expensive because they are organic, fair trade, local or better made and durable.
Shop With Friends. Bringing other people with you to shop helps reduce the amount of money and gas you’ll spend on driving from store to store on those long shopping days. Also, shopping with friends makes the experience more fun for everyone, and allows you to spend quality time together in an otherwise hectic season.
Try Eco-online Shopping. By using sites like Etsy or other craft websites that focus on handmade/homemade or upcycled items, you will be supporting smaller scale producers. These products are more likely to have less environmental impact than items bought from other online shopping sites. You can also focus on limiting your search to your area so that shipped items don’t have as far to go, and you won't have to waste gas driving to the store. Even Amazon has created an easy way to buy more environmentally friendly products from the comfort of your home: Vine.com.
Get Green Gifts. Do your part to help wipe away our ecological footprint by choosing gifts to encourage environmentally sound choices by the recipients. Consider gifting reusable lunch box kits to friends and family members who commute long distances to work. Such gifts will encourage recipients to spend less on prepackaged or fast food lunches, which are often packed with harmful preservatives and contribute to the buildup of waste materials.
You can also find eco-friendly versions of more traditional gifts, such as iNature's biodegradable iPhone case, said to biodegrade by up to 90 percent after 180 days of submergence in a compost environment.
Green Décor. Use outdated newspapers and old sheet music for an old-fashioned and creative alternative to commercial wrapping paper. For a touch of holiday charm, reused ribbon and lace creates neat bows around gifts and can be saved and reused for the next holiday season.
Opt for energy efficient LED lights rather than conventional Christmas bulbs this holiday season. LED lights are a great alternative because they emit less heat while glowing brighter, and are sure to help save on your electric bill.
Authentic Christmas Trees. Unlike artificial trees, which are manufactured overseas and shipped to the United States, most cut holiday trees are grown on local tree farms. Their trunks can be ground into nitrogen-rich woodchips, which can be added to your compost pile or used as a soil amendment. Adorn your authentic tree with holiday edibles such as strings of cranberries, popcorn or gingerbread ornaments for an eco-friendly, tasty alternative to the usual plastic or blown-glass ornaments.
Gifts That Keep on Giving. Make donations in a loved one’s name and present her or him with the certificate. Possible charities include Heifer International , the World Wildlife Fund or Habitat for Humanity, all of which have easy options for making a holiday donation. Check with local charities in your area as well. They may already have a program for gift donations.
Use this holiday season to help empower farmers and workers in developing countries by shopping for fair-trade products! Fair trade encourages sustainable practices and works hard to guarantee a living wage for workers. Great fair-trade gift ideas include chocolates, exotic spices and handcrafted jewelry.
This time of year is about giving — thinking about someone and something beyond yourself. The best gift you can give this year is a green holiday for your friends, your family and yourself.
For more advice on how to have a happy holiday, check out Utne Reader's Feel-Good Gift Guide.
Photo by Fotolia/evgenyb