As with most mothers, it’s the simple things—the heart-felt things—that matter most to our planet Earth. Practicing simple habits throughout the season can make a big difference.
Before purchasing a gift or other item for the holiday, do a quick mental checklist. Does the item have:
- Low mileage? (Is the backstory like a retelling of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?”) When you opt for locally and regionally made products, you significantly reduce the transportation pollution connected to your gift. You will boost the local economy, too.
- Minimal or no packaging? According to the EPA, almost one-third of municipal waste in the U.S. is discarded packaging. Paper or cardboard packaging is more easily recycled than plastic.
- Natural content? From cradle (production) to grave (disposal), plastic and other petroleum-based materials (such as polyester fleece) wreak havoc on the environment and the health of the people who live near the facilities. A gift made of natural materials is also the least toxic option for the recipient.
Tip: Give homemade gifts; an “experience” such as tickets to a play, museum, or movie; an activity such as ice skating; or a service (e.g., a massage) for a perfect score on your checklist.
- When updating and adding to your holiday light collection, opt for LEDs. They use 70 percent less energy than traditional bulbs.
- Use a timer to control when the holiday lights turn on and off.
- Wrap your home! No, not with yards of gift paper and bows! Install storm doors and windows. Cover windows with plastic if you don’t have storm windows. Block drafts under doors.
- Ask Santa to install a programmable thermostat for an estimated 10 percent cut in energy costs and use.
Americans throw away about 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Non-material gifts win in this category as well because experiences or services don’t need wrapping. We would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields if every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials. Ways to reuse materials:
- Reuse gift bags.
- Repurpose old t-shirts, maps, sheet music, newspaper comics, scarves, fabric, or handkerchiefs instead of using new wrapping paper.
- Turn cereal boxes inside out and decorate them.
- Use reusable tins or decorative storage boxes.
- Save used gift wrappings for the next holiday. Recycle any wrappings that can’t be reused.
- Close the loop: Buy gifts made from recycled content.
About 40 percent of the food grown in the country is wasted, according to Forgotten Harvest, a food rescue organization in southeast Michigan. One way to make a difference is to adjust your expectation of cosmetic beauty and buy “ugly” produce. Oddly shaped produce often sits on the shelf and becomes waste before it is even sold. More ideas:
- Make a grocery list and stick to it. Don’t buy or make more than you need.
- Keep reusable containers on hand for leftovers for you and others. Look up new recipes for leftovers.
- Compost any food waste in a backyard pile or a vermiculture (worm!) bin.
Keep it real whenever you can. Whether it’s a tree, a wreath, a swag, or table centerpiece, real greenery is healthier for you and the planet. Artificial trees and decorations are made of PVC plastic and cannot be recycled. They can also have lead, phthalates and other toxic chemicals. Experts recommend that parents don’t let children play under artificial trees. Real trees, on the other hand, are renewable, recyclable and produce oxygen. Farmers plant one to three seedlings for every tree cut.
Consider these ideas like the ultimate handmade card to Mother Earth: They aren’t hard, they just take a little extra time, consideration and love.
– Melissa Cooper Sargent, Environmental Health Educator with LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center. For more information, you can email her at email@example.com or visit http://www.ecocenter.org/lmg.