8 Tips for a Green Christmas

While red metallic wrapping paper looks festive, it's often not recyclable. (Image credit: Dreamstime)

While Christmas is sometimes white, it generally isn't green. All that one-time-use wrapping paper and packaging, fuel spent traveling and shipping presents, and energy used to light up trees and houses means the holiday season takes a toll on the environment.

In fact, Americans produce about 1 million extra tons of trash around the holidays, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which reported that the volume of household waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day rises by 25 percent above normal.

So to take pity on Mother Nature while celebrating Father Christmas, here are some tips:

Recycle wrapping paper — or better yet, forgo it altogether. Try making your own wrapping paper and trimmings from newspapers, paper bags, art projects, clothes, dish towels, etc. And if you do buy new wrapping paper, go for the kind without glossy metallic coating, which makes it harder to recycle.

Stay home. Much of the worst impact to the environment comes from all the carbon dioxide emitted by the transportation we use to get around during the holidays. Consider limiting your plane travel (the worst offender) and long car rides. If you must drive, carpool, and try to schedule around traffic, to reduce the amount of time you idle and waste fuel.

Lower the thermostat. If you're cooking and having company over, chances are you can get away with lowering the heat in your house, because the body warmth and heat from the oven should help compensate.

Lose the lights. Think about cutting back on excessive house and yard lights — is it really necessary to see your glow-in-the-dark inflatable Santa from the next town over? And if you are decorating with lights, try switching to the LED variety, which can use 90 percent less energy than regular holiday lights.

Buy in bulk. Instead of purchasing cans of soda, small bags of chips, and serving-size baking supplies, stock up on bulk goods to reduce packaging waste.

Use real dishes. While disposable plates and silverware are easier if you're hosting crowds, the environment will thank you if you buck up and do the dishes.

Serve less meat. Chicken, pork, and, especially, beef, take a heavier toll on the environment than veggies. Cows, in particular, produce copious amounts of methane, which is even worse for global warming than carbon dioxide. So instead of serving the turkey, the ham and the pot roast side-by-side, consider replacing some of the meat on your menu with tofu or veggies.

Use a real tree – and then recycle it when it's done! Though it may feel sad to cut down a tree for the holidays, consider that most Christmas trees are grown expressly for the purpose (so you're not contributing to deforestation), and can be planted or composted when you're done with them. Plastic trees, in contrast, require petroleum to make, and then can't be recycled easily when you're through with them.

Clara Moskowitz
Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has written for both Space.com and Live Science.