Holiday Recycling Ideas

During the holidays, waste disposal increases 25% in the United States, creating an extra 5 billion pounds of waste in the landfills.  Holiday travelers will also be logging lots of additional miles and creating tons of greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

What's hip?  What's hot?  And best of all, what can generally save you money this holiday season? Answer: Green Your Routine.  It’s almost effortless and you do not need to go out, spend a lot of money and purchase fancy gadgets.  For most of the tips below, you don’t need to spend a dime.  Actually, enjoying a more environmentally- responsible lifestyle can save you money.  Protect the planet and keep that piggy bank full this holiday season!

  1. Lights Out.  Swap your old incandescent holiday lights for energy-efficient LED ones.  The old ones can be recycled at   According to Consumer Reports, LEDs use “1 to 3 kilowatt hours of energy, compared with 12 to 105 kWh for incandescents, saving anywhere between $1 and $11.“
  2. A Gift Wrapped in a Gift: Don't Buy Wrapping Paper.  Most mass-produced wrapping paper is not recyclable and ends up in landfills.  Try wrapping holiday gifts in a reusable item, such as a scarf, decorative dishtowel, bandana, or cloth shopping bag.  Reuse bags or boxes.  Be creative about reusing old materials, such as scraps of fabric, magazines, or calendars, to make gifts .
  3. Back to Nature.  Trees can, and should be, mulched.  Check with your local city or county to find out whether they do curbside pickup or where to find your closest drop- off location.
  4. Give a Gift that Gives Back. Help support the critical work of a non profit organization for the hard- to- purchase-for person on your list who has everything.   Make a donation in honor of a loved one.  Choose a cause that addresses an issue that you and your friends and family members care about, and support that cause with a donation.  Green America offers gift memberships at special rates during the holidays.
  5. Green Experiences. Give green gifts, such as a gift certificate to an organic restaurant or a membership in a cycling club or car-share program.
  6. Green Greetings.  Send e-cards and avoid the cost of stamps.
  7. Green those holiday parties. Make sure the host has a recycle bin and, if not, figure out a way to set one up.
  8. Consider the Lifecycle of Electronic Gifts.  Some of the most popular gift items for children and teens are electronics, like computers, video games, and music devices.  The Recycled Video Games Network is a great resource for buying recycled games and systems for less, and reducing the amount of new materials used in the process .
  9. Give Gifts from the Heart.  Instead of spending money on commercial goods, give the gift of your time and talent to loved ones this year.  Offer to make dinner, walk the dog, or help with gardening and home repairs.
  10. Buy Green Gifts.  If you choose to give presents over the holidays, shop with green businesses listed in theNational Green Pages.  This year, a number of green businesses are offering special discounts to make green gift giving even easier.  For example, Leber Jeweler is the creator of Earthwise Jewelry®, the first artisanal collection of fine jewelry to combine conflict-free diamonds, fairly-traded colored gemstones, and environmentally-conscious precious metals.
  11. Recycle and Reuse Packaging From Gifts.  To reduce environmental impacts, it is important to recycle all cardboard packaging and peanuts or other packing material that comes with gifts or purchases, as these items will not decompose in a landfill.  Most can be used over and over again for packaging and shipping.
  12. Shop Smart.  Get smarter by reading labels and investigating environmental claims.  Select products with genuine eco-friendly features, such as:
    1. Non-toxic and natural contents
    2. Made from recycled materials
    3. Minimum packaging
    4. Produced locally
    5. energy- or water-efficient

Take advantage of ratings by reputable organizations that promote products with preferable environmental attributes.  Here are some to keep in mind: Energy Star,
WaterSense or Green Seal.

More Tips for Environmentally- Friendly Shopping this Holiday Season

  1. Use Reusable Shopping Bags.  Use an eco-friendly, reusable bag.  They are not only one of the new fashion trends but also the best, as they require less waste of natural resources (such as oil) and less emissions of carbon dioxide to produce, than plastic bags.
  2. Plan Your Trips, or Walk.  Plan your trip from one shop to another in such a way that you can save some fuel.   Look at shops nearby so you can ride a bike or walk .  Shop local, as it helps your local economy.
  3. Switch Electricity Off Before You Go Shopping.  Growing traffic during holiday weekends shows that most people are out, either visiting someone or shopping.  If you are planning to be out of your house for quite a long period, switch off all unwanted lights and electronic devices.  It’s an effective way to save energy and money, and to protect the environment, starting in your own home.
  4. Buy Products Made From Recycled Materials.  Buy what has been made from recycled materials, as they are eco-friendly.  Your choice also shows that you are sincere about “buying sustainable” with recycled items.
  5. Eat Locally At Least Once A Week.

The Debate Over Real vs. Artificial Trees:

The “real versus artificial” tree debate replays itself year after year.  Just a few short decades ago, displaying a tree in your living room really only meant you had one option: a real tree.  That all changed when a US-based toilet bowl brush manufacturer, the Addis Brush Company, created an artificial tree from brush bristles in the 1930s, and this acted as the prototype for modern artificial trees.  Artificial trees quickly became increasingly popular.

The Pros and Cons of Artificial

The thought of cutting down a new tree each year can put a damper on the holidays for some people.  Cost, convenience, and environmental impact are other reasons consumers opt for an artificial tree.  Given the current economic climate, artificial trees may be especially appealing for their investment value when compared with the recurrent, annual expense of a real tree.  Their convenience is also appealing to consumers, as they don’t need watering, don’t leave pine needles all over the floor, and transportation from tree farm to home isn't an issue.  But many experts believe artificial trees actually have a greater negative environmental impact when all aspects of their life cycle are considered.

Today’s artificial trees are typically manufactured with metal and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a non-biodegradable, petroleum-derived plastic.  Despite their PVC contents, artificial trees are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable, meaning they will sit in a landfill for centuries after disposal.  Approximately 85% of artificial trees sold in the US are imported from China, adding to their overall environmental footprint.

The Pros and Cons of Real

There are about 500,000 acres in production for growing trees.  Each acre provides the daily oxygen requirements of 18 people.  Approximately 33 million real trees are sold in North America each year.  Luckily, about 93% of those trees are recycled through more than 4,000 available recycling programs.

Also known as “treecycling,” the act of recycling a tree is a leading reason many experts agree they are more environmentally-friendly than their plastic counterparts.  Treecycling is an easy way to return a renewable and natural resource back to the environment, rather than disposing it in a landfill where decomposition rates are slowed due to lack of oxygen.

A single farmed tree absorbs more than 1 ton of CO2 throughout its lifetime.  With more than 350 million real trees growing in US tree farms alone, you can imagine the yearly amount of carbon sequestering associated with the trees.  Additionally, each acre of trees produces enough oxygen for the daily needs of 18 people.

In order to ensure a healthy supply of trees each year, growers must use sustainable farming techniques.  For each tree harvested, one to three seedlings are planted the following spring, ensuring a healthy supply of trees.  According to the NCTA, the Christmas tree industry employs more than 100,000 Americans, an important economic consideration in the real versus artificial debate.

An Even Better Option

Go one step further than the “real versus artificial” debate and consider a living, potted tree this Christmas.  Though not feasible for everybody due to climate and land availability, living trees are brought into the home for about 10 days, then replanted after Christmas.

The Verdict?

Real trees top our charts for Christmas adornment.  Even though they might shed needles on your floor, the investment in a US-based product, the carbon-neutral nature of their production, and their ease of recycling make them a clear winner.

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