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The season of excess is here again. Between cookies, gifts, cards and travel, the holidays often mean a bit too much of a good thing. For many of us, that can lead to the post-holiday slump. We’ve eaten too much, sat in the car too long, have more knickknacks and ill-fitting clothes to shove in our closets … and where does it leave us? Usually not better off than we started. 


I’m hoping that a holiday season emphasizing a “less is more” mentality can help solve this problem.


Here are 7 ideas on how to put your holiday on a green diet … and make it more satisfying in the process:


1. Give non-material gifts.

Most of us don’t need more “things.” Really. Think about buying people experiences instead: restaurant gift cards, tickets to a museum, concert or sporting event, surfing or cooking lessons, or a plane ticket to visit you (and an offset for the trip). These items surely won’t end up in the back of a closet and have virtually no packaging to be thrown away.


2. Organize a media swap.

If your family is up for it, you could also organize a media swap. Find your 5 favorite movies, books or CDs with an explanation of why they are so meaningful and bring them to your family gathering. Everyone gets to go home with something new to watch, read or listen to (before they mail it back to you within a few months), you get to learn a little about your family members in the process and no one has to buy a thing. Everyone wins!


3. Or better yet, give to charity instead.

Every year I look at all the gifts piled around my feet and end up feeling a little down. So if you are having trouble finding a gift for the person that has everything, consider giving instead to someone that doesn’t. Charitable donations to a friend or family member’s favorite charity in their name can be a great gift.


4. Ditch the wrapping paper.

According the Clean Air Council, an additional 5 million tons of waste is generated during the holidays, 4 million tons of which is wrapping paper and shopping bags. If you do end up wrapping gifts, consider using an alternative to traditional wrapping paper: the Sunday comics, magazine pages, old maps, calendar pages (you probably already have one with 11 of the months to spare!) or pieces of fabric. If you have to buy wrapping paper, avoid buying the kind with glossy foil, because that kind can’t be recycled.


5. Celebrate with root vegetables.

I love a good Christmas cookie. Or 20. I think we all have been guilty of eating too much during the holidays, and I don’t think Americans will be ending that trend anytime soon. So, since we probably can’t do too much about the amount of food, the least we can do is try to improve the kind of food. Just like any other time of year, the best ways to green your food choices are to eliminate animal products, eat in-season produce, and choose options with the least packaging (one big bag of dried beans vs. 10 cans of prepared beans).


6. Switch to e-cards.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans send 1.9 BILLION Christmas cards each year. Everyone loves getting mail from friends and family, but your wishes for holiday cheer and that annual newsletter will probably be just as well-received in an inbox rather than a mailbox.


7. Cut the power bill.

Choosing LED lights to line your house or wrap around your tree can make a big dent in carbon emissions and energy costs. According to the Electric Power Research Institute, if LED bulbs had been available to movie characters in the late 1980s, Clark Griswold could have cut his power bill from $2,400 to just $50 for his (best in the neighborhood) 25,000-bulb outdoor display.

And if all the seasonal mini-lights in the United States were switched from standard incandescent bulbs to LEDs, the energy savings would exceed $250 million and carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 400,000 tons.


Because LEDs last about 10 times longer, the lights your child sees as an infant could be the same ones he’s helping to hang up as a teenager. And an investment in a light timer will help to make sure you aren’t sending holiday cheer to a fast-asleep neighborhood at 3 a.m.


While it might be hard to make all these changes at once (especially ones that involve long-standing traditions), just making one or two changes could make a big difference. And after the holiday excess is over, try talking to your family about how to make new green traditions together.


What will you be doing to have a more eco-friendly holiday season this year?


-- Text by Margaret Southern, Cool Green Science Blog

7 ways to green your holiday season
Making just one or two changes can make a big difference.