This year, make sure your tree isn’t the only green thing in your household. Follow these five easy tips and you’ll be well on your way to three new family traditions: reducing, reusing and recycling.
Give up store-bought gifts
Sure, opening presents is half the fun of the holiday season, but here’s a dismal fact that may make you think twice about the gifts you give: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the volume of household waste in the United States goes up about 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Since much of this garbage is from product packaging, consider giving fewer store-bought presents to cut down on waste and spare your wallet. How? Try a gift exchange at home, among friends or at the office. You’ll only need to purchase one present for a previously selected recipient—just make sure you agree upon a maximum amount to spend beforehand. Also buy local when possible. Doing so greatly cuts down on the fossil fuel emissions wasted on shipping, and you’ll be supporting your own community.
Show off your skills
If you can bake mouth-watering scones, craft collages worthy of the fireplace mantel, or knit hats that would make Santa jealous, now’s the time to show off your talents to co-workers, friends and family. Not the crafty type? Don’t fret! Websites like The Daily Green and TLC’s How Stuff Works, among others, offer hundreds of simple ways to make use of old sheets, cardboard boxes and even socks. Whatever you choose to give, keep your homemade presents green by putting baked goods in reusable glass dishes or wrapping up knit goods with old ribbons. No matter how they’re presented, your best friend or husband will be touched. Nothing’s sweeter than a gift made from love and time.
Pass up paper products
According to the website Use Less Stuff, the 2.65 billion holiday cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high! If everyone sent just one fewer card, 50,000 cubic yards of paper would be saved each season—that alone is a huge reduction. But before you cross grandma off your card-sending list, consider less devastating alternatives to minimize paper waste. One easy fix: Skip the wrapping paper. Instead, use old newspapers or magazine ads to cloak your packages. Then, instead of throwing used paper in the trash, toss it all in your recycling bin. To add an extra festive look, embellish presents with holly or cinnamon sticks. For gift tags, cut out portions of greeting cards from years past and tie them to presents with string. Last but not least, no matter how big your gathering is, skip the disposable plates. Head to your local thrift store to find an array of colorful dishes that are sure to serve you well.
Propose a holiday potluck
According to the EPA, the U.S. threw out more than 34 million tons of uneaten food in 2010. To cut down on holiday meal waste —and vary your leftovers—invite guests to bring their own favorite homemade dish and a few reusable containers. After dinner, pack up leftovers for everyone to take home so no one person is stuck with too much. For a full family feel, decorate binders beforehand and invite attendees to bring copies of their recipes so everyone leaves with full bellies and a new cookbook to boot. And remember, once you’ve carved your bird, don’t throw away the carcass. Instead toss it into a large pot with an onion, a few sprigs of thyme, water, carrots and two bay leaves. Let it simmer for an hour, and voil