Green Your Winter Holidays

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas, Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and everything else we celebrate this time of year!

The holidays are hard on the environment, but they don’t have to be! There are many things you can do (or not do) to lighten your impact on our planet.

Holiday lightsMany people put up lights for the holidays.  If you’re one of them, have you noticed how much your electric bill rises each December?  Beside the cost to you, there is a definite a cost to the environment in the pollution created when all that extra energy is created – the electricity in our area comes mainly from coal.  Fortunately we don’t have to give up our traditions, just make a few adjustments.  Put up fewer lights, and put them on timers that come on when it gets dark and turn off when you go to bed.

Better still, deck the halls with LEDs! Switching to LED lights will use 80-90% less energy than the traditional ones. According to one U.S. Department of Energy study, if everyone replaced their conventional holiday light strings with LEDs, we could save at least two billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in a month – enough to power 200,000 homes for a year!

What to do with the old Christmas lights? Defenders will take all types at our recycling drives. Behr Woodstock will also accept them – contact them at 815-206-5511. Imagine how much waste could be kept out of the landfill if all the cities and shopping malls recycled the strings they cut off the trees each year! (yes, cut off! Apparently, it’s cheaper to buy new ones each year than to pay someone to take them down.)

holiday wrappingPaper products abound at the holidays, so choose wisely. Use recycled wrapping paper. And if you open your presents carefully, you can reuse the paper next year. (Grandma used to iron it if it was too wrinkled!) At the very least, choose paper that can be recycled. It can go in with your regular scrap paper so long as the design is not metallic, waxy or glittery.

Make the gift wrap a part of your gift by using a scarf or towel to wrap the gift. Click here to learn Furoshiki – the Japanese art of wrapping and carrying things with a square of cloth.

Use leftover wallpaper, fabric scraps, old maps, sheet music or even the Sunday funnies with a festive bow – use raffia, twine or other natural materials instead of non-recyclable ribbon.

Gift bags with a little tissue paper can be used year after year and are a quick and easy way to wrap. Save boxes and ribbons to reuse. If every American reused just one foot of ribbon, we’d save enough to tie a bow around the Earth twice!

Holiday CardsIf you send out holiday cards, look for cards made from recycled paper, and avoid glitter and foil which cannot be recycled. Go paperless – there are many e-cards available that you can send out via e-mail avoiding paper completely, or create a multiphoto card or slideshow on your website, blog, or on sites like Add some holiday tunes, snowflakes and your Christmas letter, then e-mail the link to friends and family.

If you receive cards from your family and friends, cut out the front of the card to use for gift tags on future gifts and then recycle the envelopes and any cards that aren’t foil or sparkles. Or use the fronts of the cards to make postcards. Cut the front to the maximum postcard size of 6 inches long and 4.25 inches tall, add the address and greeting on the back, and send it at the postcard rate. Save trees and money! Or use the cards to create new ornaments. Click here for one idea!

Christmas treeThe perennial Live vs. Artificial Christmas Tree Debate continues. shares the following info in this article:

“With live trees, our primary concerns are the chemicals used to grow them, the road miles they travel before we buy them, and the environmental impact of cutting down a perfectly good tree. We can address these concerns by looking for trees grown organically and locally, and by taking comfort in the fact that when we support Christmas tree farms, we oppose the parking lots and megamalls that would gladly take their places. Also, if we choose a live tree, we can recycle or mulch it when our celebrations have ended.

With artificial trees, our worries fall into surprisingly similar categories, but with more dastardly details. The chemicals used to “grow” them include PVC (yes, even in the newer “hyper-realistic” polyethylene models) and sometimes lead. They travel many thousands of miles to get to us, almost always from China. And their environmental impact is that they never, ever biodegrade.”

Here in McHenry County, we are lucky to have the perfect solution right in our back yard – Alice & Bill’s Pioneer Tree Farm in McHenry.

“Though using a cut tree might seem like an odd way to protect the environment, it actually does.  Our trees remove carbon dioxide from the air, provide habitat for wildlife, protect soil from erosion, add scenic beauty to the countryside, provide an outdoor experience to thousands of people every year, and bring nature into their homes as well.  Our trees are a crop which keeps the land agricultural — when trees are cut, more are planted.  In addition, we use no chemicals, and also donate 10 percent of tree sales to the local environmental group, the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County.”

(and you may ask – what kind of tree do the Defenders put up in the office? It’s a second-hand artificial tree that was donated to one of our garage sales back in 2004! Reused is a good thing, even if it is vinyl.)

After the holidays, remove all the tinsel & decorations and recycle your tree. Many municipalities have programs to pick up your tree curbside & grind it into mulch, or there are several drop-off sites in the county. Or consider using it to feed wildlife in your yard. Google “edible ornaments for wildlife” for a bunch of ideas!

Holiday giftsWhat gifts are you buying for your family and friends?  Look for things without excess packaging and things that are useful to the recipient, not something that will end up at the resale shop or in the waste stream. Shopping at garage sales or resale shops for gifts can be an adventure and gives items a second life. And when you go to the store, bring your own cloth shopping bags.

Intangibles such as Defenders, zoo or museum memberships make great gifts. Or give a gift of time and companionship: a chore such as window washing, babysitting, snow shoveling or yard work. Try gifting  homemade treats like cookies, jellies, or cinnamon bread.

Are you shipping gifts? Styrofoam packing peanuts are good for protection, but lousy for the environment. Defenders’ often has reused peanuts and bubblewrap available for sale – call the office. We collect the used peanuts & wrap at our monthly recycling drives, and we encourage you to bring us any that extra that you have.

Include a  note with your gifts on how to recycle them when they are no longer wanted. This is especially helpful for electronics and items with batteries. Make it easy for family and friends to recycle by providing information from McHenry County’s Green Guide (also available in paper form at the Defenders’ office.)

public transportationWhen you’re out shopping, ride with friends or take public transportation (Chicago even decorates some of the “L” cars!) If you shop locally, you’ll also be supporting your community.

If you have to drive alone, plan ahead and combine your errands into one trip. Every gallon of gas saved is a benefit to the environment!

Shop On-Line! Believe it or not it’s 40% more energy efficient to have products shipped via air freight, and 90% more efficient via truck.

china and crystal for festive dinnersGo ahead and bring out the good china and crystal for your holiday dinners – more festive than paper plates, and better for Mother Earth. Besides, cloth napkins are just classier. Having a huge crowd? Consider renting the needed plates & flatware instead of using disposables or buying new. Or ask everyone to bring their own non-disposable place setting.

Need a beautiful, earth-friendly centerpiece? Prune a few evergreen boughs from your yard, accent with dried seed pods, rose hips, and pine cones. Tuck in a few shiny ornaments for a little sparkle.

Making small changes in our traditions will help our environment.  With some creative planning we can have wonderful holidays without negatively impacting the environment.

Let’s all have a Green Holiday – our Earth deserves it.

Do you have other great eco-tips for the holidays? Send us an email!

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