The wrapping paper and outdated ornaments, the dried-up evergreens and tangled lights -- it all has to go somewhere. Long after the last fruitcake expires, those holiday castoffs will still be sitting in your local landfill. All told, Americans produce 25 million extra tons of trash during the holiday season. That's a 25 percent spike in what we throw away, according to ULS (Use Less Stuff), a consumer resource for greener living.
This year, cut your consumption and have an earth-friendly holiday. Reduce, reuse and recycle, and green up your Christmas.
*Update Your Lights
When they first appeared on the market, LED holiday lights lacked the warmth and charm of incandescent bulbs, and many consumers were hesitant to make the switch. The latest offerings, however, capture the soft twinkle of traditional lights -- and use 80 percent less energy.
"During the holidays, people want to spend time with their family and friends, not worry about their electricity bills," says Allyson Schmutter, spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy. "By remaining energy-conscious, consumers get to be both festive and frugal, and using LEDs is one of the best ways to cut your electric use during the holiday season. They use less energy than the more commonly used incandescent lights, and they are just as pretty to keep your home aglow."
To save even more on your holiday electric bill, add timers to the new light displays. Leaving lights on 24 hours a day will quadruple your energy costs and create four times the pollution, according to the Alliance to Save Energy.
When trading up, be sure to recycle your old strands. Check Earth911.com for recycling options in your area.
*Wrap It With Furoshiki
Skip the paper and bows, and instead give gifts hidden in carefully folded fabric. This Japanese tradition dates back hundreds of years, and it's catching on here in the United States as a savvy alternative to wasteful wrapping paper.
"The ages-old fabric-tying technique from Japan called furoshiki is quickly becoming a tres chic , eco-friendly way to share gifts," says Dana S. Holmes, editor in chief of Gifts.com. "Wrapping a gift in fabric instantly sets it apart from the others -- and the how-to videos all over YouTube prove that furoshiki is much easier than origami."
Use vintage scarves or classy cashmere pashminas to conceal gifts, or splurge on stylish shopping totes like those from Envirosax ($40 for five bags at Envirosax.com), which feature patterns as pretty as any paper. It's like giving two gifts in one -- without the waste.
"Furoshiki makes each gift as beautiful and eco-friendly on the outside as it is on the inside," Holmes says. "When someone gives a gift of furoshiki, they are showing that they care about creating less waste without sacrificing style."
*Swap Old Toys for New
Remember all those great toys from last Christmas that the kids just couldn't wait to unwrap? Chances are that more than a few found their way to the back of the closet. Instead of spending a fortune this year on new playthings, swap toys with like-minded moms on ThredUP.com.
"A toy swap is a great alternative to hitting the mall because it cuts down on consumption and waste -- and swapping teaches children good ethics and the concept of giving, which is what the holiday season is all about," say Michele Adams and Gia Russo, co-directors of content and community for ThredUP.com.
Choose from thousands of boxes of gently used toys, and pay just $5 plus shipping to have it delivered. Then post your own collection and ship it free of charge when another member requests it.
*'Upcycle' Your D?cor
Before you splurge at the store on new holiday d?cor, consider a few more frugal, earth-friendly options. Go thrift shopping or check out Craigslist for gently used decorations, update your collection with a few handcrafted pieces from eco-minded artists on Etsy.com, or host an ornament swap with friends and family.
Better yet, get crafty and "upcycle" your dated decorations. A coat of spray paint, for example, can transform a hodgepodge of old ornaments into a stunning, cohesive display.
"Homemade products can be a great source of conversation, but see what supplies you can use at home before buying anything. It's the traditional way we used to approach purchases," says Reena Kazmann, director of Eco-Artware.com, which features gifts made from recycled, reused and natural materials by 34 independent, cutting-edge artists.
For a one-of-a-kind tree, Kazmann suggests paper chains made from glossy magazine pages, origami ornaments, festively painted jigsaw puzzle pieces and natural elements, such as pine cones or cranberry and popcorn strands. Be imaginative. The artists on Eco-Artware.com, for example, have transformed castoff cardboard into delicate white wreaths of winter foliage and refashioned oil drums into spiral Christmas trees.