- This article was contributed by Jessica Mino, Resource Management Coordinator and Ashley Broussard, intern with the Kane County Division of Environmental and Water Resources.
For the season of giving, the holidays can be one of the most unsustainable times of the year. Increased energy use, plastic decorations and landfill waste are just some of the reasons behind this.
Fortunately, all hope is not lost. This year, give a gift to Mother Nature by planning for a green Christmas.
According to a study done by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2008, holiday lights use 6.63 kilowatt hours of electricity.
That’s more energy than the entire country of El Salvador uses all year.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Although decorations that don’t involve any energy would ultimately be the best, you can still reduce your energy consumption by making a few minor changes in your decoration choices.
Swap your Christmas lights to LEDs. LED lighting has been shown in multiple studies to be one of the most efficient forms of lighting. Although they have a slightly higher up front cost, the savings will come in your electric bill. They use 80 percent less energy than traditional holiday lights and last 25 times as long.
Switch to solar powered lights. Perfect for porches, balconies, and around bushes, solar powered lights are the way to go. Since their energy is 100 percent renewable, your carbon footprint for the holidays can be dramatically lowered.
Leaving holiday lights on contributes to light pollution. Light pollution disrupts animal circadian rhythms, alters migration patterns, and disrupts astronomical research.
Compared to other regions of the country, Kane County has a particularly high amount of light pollution. If you forget to turn off your lights during the day and before going to bed, buying a light timer can be a life saver. It is programmed to shut lights off between certain hours so you’re not leaving them constantly running.
Avoid using “phantom energy.” Phantom energy is the term given to items that are turned off, but still consuming energy. If you’re going on vacation, unplug TVs, unused phone chargers, lamps, etc. to stop the energy waste.
An empty oven takes just as much energy to cook as a full oven. Condense your cooking time and cook multiple dishes at a time to save natural gas. (To minimize food waste, check out our Thanksgiving tips!)
Similarly, wait until you have a full load to run the dishwasher. If you don’t have a full load and need clean dishes, hand wash them to save water.
After the holidays are over if you’re planning on getting rid of your lights, keep them out of the trash. Lights are considered hazardous waste and can contaminate landfills. There’s multiple light recycling programs out there for you to use, including the Kane County electronics recycling drop-offs.
Decorate with nature!
Avoid plastic and glitter and opt for wood, burlap, and cotton decorations. String cranberries for classic tree garland and collect pine cones for vase fillers.
These elements look great and greatly cut down on the amount of holiday waste.
The debate between putting up a real or artificial Christmas tree has been going on for a while. Although the idea of chopping down as many as 30 million Christmas trees each year sounds unsustainable — it’s actually better than buying a fake tree to reuse.
Christmas trees are specifically grown to be harvested and another tree will be planted to take its place the following year.
In fact, a study done by the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station in 2010 showed that the highest carbon sequestration rates (the rate in which the tree removes and stores carbon from the atmosphere) occur in very young forests, and these rates rapidly decrease with age.
Fake trees are typically made of metal and polyvinyl chloride (also known as PVC – a non-biodegradable, petroleum-derived plastic). Although it is able to be reused, after a few years when it’s time to get a replacement tree, it must go into a landfill where the plastic will never fully decompose. A real Christmas tree is the most sustainable option.
Better yet, buy a live potted tree that can be planted in the spring or kept as a houseplant.
Skip the wrapping paper, and get creative.
Here are some eco-friendly gift-wrap ideas:
- Scarves are a great gift idea, especially in the cold weather. Buy them a scarf and wrap another gift inside!
- Have a baker in your family? Anyone moving into their first home/apartment? Put together two baking dishes to act as a box and place another gift (such as a recipe in a jar or other baking tools) inside.
- Place the gift inside of a reusable shopping bag
Still shopping? See our sustainable shopping tips!
If you still prefer wrapping your gifts, look for wrapping paper made out of recycled paper or consider using a gift bag.
Most importantly, take time to connect with the season!
The holidays can be busy and sometimes it is difficult to appreciate the winter weather, but taking a moment to breathe the crisp air, realize how deep you can see into a leaf-less forest, or look for the subtle signs of life outside can brighten your mood and the mood of those around you — the best gift of all!
And don’t forget to check our other seasonal tips!