'Tis the season to be jolly but it’s also the season to think twice before you box up packages to mail to family or friends or trash that tree at the end of the season. Most holiday cards — except a handful you might save — candy boxes, colorful ribbons and Styrofoam peanuts just add to the pile of waste already in our nation’s landfills. So this holiday season, why not give a gift to the planet as well as a loved one?
1. Save a Christmas tree
If you’re lucky enough to have a yard, decorate an existing tree, plant or scrub without uprooting it. In warm climates, consider celebrating outside. Ambitious sorts might pick up a sustainable tree or a tree that can be repotted in the winter and then planted in the spring. Ask about sustainable trees at your local tree stand. A few mail-order tree companies are also listed in the National Green Pages, published by Washington-based non-profit environmental group Co-op America.
Super ambitious sorts might grow their own tree. A treeinabox.com sells kits for $6, which contains everything you need to grow your own tree except for the water, sun and patience. The company guarantees their seeds will sprout or they’ll send you new ones.
Most Americans still opt for cut trees. In that case, check out the National Christmas Tree Association Web site for tips on how to care for a living tree. After the holiday, look for a program in your neighborhood that has drop-off locations or picks up trees to recycle.
Plastic trees are a mixed bag for the environment. They’re re-usable but usually are made from non-recyclable plastics. It’s best to recycle plastic trees as well. Either give it to someone who wants it or recycle it at throwplace.com, a Web site set up for the free exchange of goods.
2. Natural tree trimmings
The list is long. There are the usual edible ornaments: cranberries, popcorn strings and candy canes. But what about cinnamon sticks, Cheerios or tri-color pasta? Pine cones, twigs and feathers make great ornaments but how about those seashells you collected last summer along the coast? Old costume jewelry on a string light up a tree. (If you do use lights, make sure to use low watt bulbs.) Political buttons attached to tree branches certainly make a statement. Some stuffers from last year — small toys, novelty items — make great ornaments this year.
3. Green mailing tips
When mailing gifts, use the smallest box you can. Save and re-use any bubble paper, Styrofoam peanuts and even bunched up paper that comes your way.
OK, it may be a little late to start twirling ribbons around lavender leaves, but it’s never too late to bake up goodies as gifts. Released just in time for the holidays, “Homemade: Delicious Foods to Make and Give” by Judith Choate (Clarkson
Potter, 2004, $25) may help gift givers think beyond cookies in a tin. The 176–page cookbook not only features recipes for cookies, cakes and breads but also recipes for some unusual fare, such as blueberry catsup, dill pickles and coffee liqueur.
5. Consider not using store-bought wrapping paper
There are so many options in lieu of wrapping paper. It’s hard to imagine not taking advantage of them. Now that most newspapers have some color sections, yesterday’s news print can be used to wrap up much more than fish. Make the best use of the pictures and print. For example, wrap travel gifts in the travel section and sports paraphernalia in the sports section. Prefer glossy paper? Use old magazines and shopping catalogs.
Forego paper completely. Put gifts in a reusable shopping bag or decorative gift boxes, sold at dollar stores, stationers and drugstores. Tie bows on big-ticket items. Wrap kitchen items in dish towels or cloth napkins.
6. Recycling bows, ribbons, gift wrap
Stash this year’s bows, ribbons and yes, even gift wrap away to use for next year.
7. Good things come with the least amount of packaging
Unfortunately, toys manufacturers are some of the worst offenders. It’s a wonder that toy manufacturers can design toys that sing, dance or even stand on one foot (what makes the new ELMO such a technological wonder) but they just can’t find a way to package toys without using an excessive amount of plastic, cardboard and metal twisters.
Fortunately, many good things do come with little packaging, such as: specific retailer or generic gift cards; gift certificates for spa treatments; tickets to movies, the theater or sporting events; airplane, bus or train tickets; an annual pass to a state park; and perhaps, the best of all — an I.O.U. for a home-cooked meal or a night on the town.
8. Give organic goodies
Remember the television commercial from a few years back where a little girl leaves cheese for Santa instead of cookies. Although a promotion for the American Dairy Association, the idea was a grand one. So this season, why not extend the courtesy to family and friends and send the gift of cheese rather than a tin of cookies.
A great holiday gift is the Cowgirl Creamery sampler from Point Reyes Station, Calif.–based cowgirlcreamery.com, which contains three of the company’s signature cheeses. All these cheeses start with fresh, organic cow's milk from the Straus Family Creamery. The $55 sampler comes with an 8-ounce chunk of firm yet buttery Mt. Tam, a 12-ounce piece of triple-cream Red Hawk and 12 ounces of Pierce Point — a herb-crusted version of Brin d'Amour.
Another source for natural goodies is Novato, Calif.-based Uncommon Gifts for the Common Good. Holiday selections include a natural goodie tower for $45. All natural chocolate chip cookies, white cheddar popcorn, organic hard candies and other chocolates come in three re-usable boxes made from mulberry bark. Other holiday collections, priced from $85 to $135, contain dried mango slices, organic biscotti, natural licorice and organic hot chocolate.
9. Shop at neighborhood stores or walk to the mall? Support local retailers and save on gas at the same time. Walk to the mall. Take public transportation back.
10. Stick to that list As the season heats up, the shopping frenzy escalates and it’s tempting to stray from the list. But don’t! The closer it gets to Dec. 25, retailers try to entice shoppers with last-minute sales and promotions to clear their shelves of unwanted goods. Believe me, you really don’t need that Dora the Explorer snow globe or a companion for ELMO — my apartment is filled with that stuff.