I was driving home from the gym around 8 a.m. and some people still had their holiday lights on. That made me wonder what their electric bills were going to be like come January, but it also made me think about how we can conserve over the holidays. I posted the information below last December, and I think it bears repeating.
I ask that during your rush to buy and decorate, you keep a few (or more) of these items in mind. Some of them may even provide gift ideas and ways to de-stress during this busy time. It doesn’t hurt to keep Mother Nature and the planet in our thoughts over the holidays (and beyond) as well. Enjoying the holidays in concert with the Earth is a win-win for all.
Some holiday gifts fill a practical need and need to be bought new. But many gifts are really gestures of thoughtfulness. You can give more while spending less.
• Not all gifts have to be store-bought.
You can give more while spending less by giving gifts that are personal and unique. While young children may favor the bright, shiny store-bought item, most adults appreciate anything that shows thoughtfulness.
• Simplify the ‘gift-go-round’.
Feeling overwhelmed by a gift list that’s just too long? Here’s an idea to help shorten your list and simplify the family gift-giving ritual. We tried this in our own family last year and it was appreciated by all…Take turns picking one name per adult – the name you pick is your gift recipient.
Buy Smart – think ‘green’
• look for locally made gifts
Many gifts in today’s marketplace come from halfway around the world, and the impact of transportation contributes significantly to greenhouse emissions and global warming. Local craft fairs and artisan shops are a good source for gifts that come without the added costs of transportation. And gifts made locally often have a story which goes with the gift, since the artisan and the origin of the gift are known.
• choose gifts made from recycled sources
Many individuals and small businesses have developed great products using recycled materials. Supporting these businesses helps reduce the waste stream while promoting the concept of making best use of available materials.
• give ‘battery-free’ gifts
According to the EPA, about 40% of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Discarded batteries are an environmental hazard. Even rechargeable batteries find their way into the waste stream eventually.
• avoid children’s toys that promote violence
There is too much violence in the world, and the new wave of video games for children is disturbing. Remember the theme of Christmas is “Peace on Earth”. There are many toys and games that are fun, and nurture childrens’ creativity and sense of active play.
• ‘re-gifting’ is OK
There’s much discussion these days about the etiquette behind the trend to ‘re-gift’, that is, to pass on a gift you received but do not need. What’s to discuss? Re-gifting makes perfect sense. If you receive something you really don’t need, look for ways you can reuse this gift by passing it on to someone who can use it. Of course, re-gifting needs to be done with care so as not to offend the original giver, but keeping a gift you don’t need is wasteful.
Connect with Nature
Christmas is a time for giving, and a time for family. What a great opportunity to start a family tradition of giving back to the earth and instilling the values of sustainable living to your children, friends and community. Start an annual, earth-friendly Christmas family tradition! It will also get you outdoors for a few hours to build an appetite for the big dinner.
Annual Christmas Day Bird Count
Take your binoculars, a field guide to local birds, a small pad or journal for each participant and walk a course through your neighborhood, local park or countryside. Try to identify and count every bird you see, and make a note of it in your journal. At the end of the hike, list the species seen and number of birds per species. There’s always a surprising discovery, and the activity highlights the presence and value of our feathered friends.
Compare the results from former years and you’ll become experts on your local bird population and migration habits. This is a great family activity because even the youngest eyes are just as good at spotting the birds and contributing to the event.
Family nature hike
A peaceful walk through nature on Christmas day will be remembered and valued more than the score of the football game. Plan your walk before the holiday meal while everyone still has lots of energy. The walk will also pique appetites and provide a shared topic for conversation during mealtime.
Nature restoration activity
Planting a small tree together symbolizes the value of nature and offsets the ‘taking’ of the Christmas tree. An hour spent cleaning up or enhancing a natural area also enriches the giver and acknowledges nature as the source of our well-being.
Decorate a tree for the birds
Place seed bells, suet, pine cones with peanut butter and seed trays on any tree in your yard, preferably a tree in the open where cats can be seen easily by the birds. To attract a wide variety of birds, use varied seed types such as black oil sunflower seed, wild bird mixed seed and nyger seed bells. This is a great activity for kids, and offers an important food source for birds during the winter.
Lower the impact of holiday lighting
In the past, the house with the most decorative holiday lights used to be considered the ‘best’. Times have changed. The cost of electricity goes way beyond the utility bill. Electricity drains natural resources.
• Reduce the size of outdoor lighting displays
A smaller presentation of lights can still be attractive, and more appropriate in the ‘season of giving’. Saving electricity is also a way of giving, since conserving resources benefits everyone.
• Use LED lights for house and Christmas tree lighting
LED (Light Emitting Diode) holiday lights use up to 95% less energy than larger, traditional holiday bulbs and last up to 100,000 hours when used indoors. LED holiday lights use .04 watts per bulb, 10 times less than mini bulbs and 100 times less than traditional holiday bulbs. Over a 30-day period, lighting 500 traditional holiday lights will cost you about $18.00 while the same number of LED lights costs only $0.19. As an added bonus, if one of the LED lights burns out the rest of the strand will stay lit.
• Outdoor Mini-lights will also save energy
A 100-light string uses only 40 watts. If you’re buying a new set of lights, compare based on equal ‘lighted lengths’. Some higher priced brands have 100 mini-lights for only 8 1/2 feet of length, while some 100 mini-light strings cover up to 40 feet in length. For the most efficient outdoor holiday lighting, consider the new solar LED strings now available.
• Turn tree lights and outdoor house decorative lighting off at bedtime
It’s simply a waste of energy to leave the holiday lights on at night after everyone’s gone to sleep.
Each year, 50 million Christmas trees are purchased in the U.S. Of those, about 30 million go to the landfill. And added to this is the carbon cost in transporting all these trees to the landfill. Much of the environmental costs associated with the holidays can be reduced by simple awareness and some pre-planning.
• Reuse or recycle gift packing materials
Bubble wrap can be stored for reuse, or recycled. Foam packing chips are not as easily recycled; if you don’t want to store this material for reuse, take it to a shipping center like Mailboxes. etc, who will accept it for their own use. Cardboard boxes should be opened flat and set out for recycling; storing and reusing these boxes is even better as no additional energy is used in remanufacturing.
• Save any special gift wrap, ribbons and bows
When unwrapping large gifts, save the paper for reuse; it can often be cut down for smaller presents. Creased wrapping can be ironed flat. Ribbons and bows are easy to save and reuse.
• Recycle old electronics
New flat-screen computer monitors, laptops, cameras, cell phones and other electronic items are common holiday gifts. Older models which are being replaced are usually still in working order, however, and should not be discarded to a landfill.
• Christmas trees can be recycled too
Live trees that have been cut are a useful material for composting. Composting requires a carbon source and Christmas trees are just right for municipal operations which use chippers to shred the material. Look for tree drop-off locations in your neighborhood. Artificial trees which are up for replacement can also be recycled. These trees are usually made from twisted metal which is accepted by most recycling centers.