We’re Dreaming of a Green Christmas
Co-op America Offers Tips for “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” during Holidays
By Todd Larsen



Many of us have fond memories of holiday traditions: singing carols, stringing popcorn, sharing special celebrations with family and friends. Connie Ross, of Portland, reminisces about a favorite Christmas memory with a different twist. Her most memorable Christmas came in 1992, when her mother sponsored a contest: “The Ross Family’s Christmas Gift to the Earth.”

“Each year for their big Christmas gift, my parents sponsor a contest for myself, my two younger brothers, and our families,” explained Ross, a member of Co-op America, a non-profit organization that promotes green living, consuming and investing. “That year, my mother read an article in a local paper about how to have a more environmentally-sensitive Christmas. She cut out the article and gave it to each of our three families, along with her instructions about how to participate.

“The article focused on five holiday categories: decorations, gift wrapping, the tree, entertaining and gifts,” Ross continued. “My brother’s family took old computer paper and sponge-painted it to create wrapping paper. Other participants made homemade decorations and used old Christmas cards for name tags on gifts. My husband and I spent two months typing my grandmother’s life story and getting it bound as a gift for family members, and we also tracked down old copies of a 1954 Life magazine that featured a short article on my grandfather. At the family gathering, my family won the contest and received a prize of a cross-country ski trip for taking the most environmentally-sound actions.

In recent years, more and more families, like the Ross family, have begun to recognize the tremendous commercialism and waste associated with the holiday season and seek ways to make their celebrations simpler and more Earth-friendly. Each year, Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period than at any other time of year, according to Bob Lilienfeld of Use Less Stuff (Ann Arbor, Michigan). This extra waste results in an additional one million tons of garbage per week.

This year, though, celebrators can turn to the Internet for ideas about how to reduce their holiday waste. Co-op America offers a number of tips for limiting the amount of holiday waste Americans produce on its web site www.coopamerica.org. Following is a selection of those ideas.

The average American receives approximately 30 Christmas cards. Get extra life out of your greeting cards by displaying them over the mantle, on the dining table or elsewhere in the house. Consider stringing a ribbon in an appropriate location and creating a card ‘garland’ by folding the cards over the ribbon.

School children often create holiday pictures at this time of year. Use their artwork to decorate your home. They’ll be proud to see it displayed, and you’ll be practicing reuse. Use edible decorations, such as strings of popcorn or cranberries, or bowls of red and green apples. As a bonus, the cranberries can be set outside for the birds after the holidays.

Gift Wrapping
Reuse paper products from around your home to wrap gifts: the Sunday comics, magazines, calendars, old maps, blueprint paper, computer paper. Colorful magazines, such as gardening or travel magazines, work particularly well.

Opt for reusable packaging, such as cookie tins or keepsake boxes. Or create your own wrapping by sewing scraps of fabric into a reusable bag. If you don’t have time to sew your own, you can purchase gift bags in a variety of prints and sizes from Carmel Pacific Bags (831) 626-6760, Save a Tree Bag Company, A Bag for All Occasions 1 (510) 843-5233, or Eco-Bags Products (800) 720-2247.

The Tree
Choose a live potted tree. Be sure to water it well and keep it indoors no longer than two weeks. Afterwards, plant it in your yard. If you don’t have the space, donate it to a local school or park. If you use a cut tree, be sure not to drape tinsel on it or flock it, which would make it difficult to mulch. Turn your tree in for mulching after the holidays. Most communities have a special tree pick-up day or a drop-off location.

Invite everyone by word of mouth or e-mail instead of sending paper invitations, or reuse holiday cards to create your invitations. Avoid disposable decorations. Instead, decorate with reusable items your guests can keep, such as poinsettias or pine cone arrangements. Use glass dishware and cloth napkins and tablecloths — either your own or from a rental businesses. A nice advantage to renting your tableware: companies can remove the dirty dishes and linens and take care of cleanup for you.

Give the gift of time — a gift certificate for an afternoon of companionship, household chores or an outing. Children delight in gifts of reused items, such as a box of old clothes and jewelry for dress-up, or tools and gadgets for a young inventor. Think in terms of giving ‘experiences’ rather than consumables: tickets to a play, sporting event or museum; music, language, art or cooking lessons; passes for ice skating or gift certificates for a meal at a restaurant. Environmentally-sound gifts and decorations, along with an overall approach for reducing waste, can help create a truly memorable holiday season. As Ross added: “At first some of the kids thought our “Christmas Gift to the Earth” contest was a dumb idea. But when people started opening the brownies my stepson made and were eating them and enjoying them, he was really proud. “Ever since that Christmas, we think more carefully about the volume of gifts we buy,” she concluded. “We consider more carefully how much we spend and for what purpose. Really, the purpose is to share with each other, and we found we could share in a lot of ways besides just buying.”

Additional tips for reducing holiday waste can be found on the Co-op America web site www.coopamerica.org . Also, Use Less Stuff publishes “42 Ways to Trim Your Holiday Wasteline” on its web site at www.cygnus-group.com . Co-op America is a nonprofit information center for environmentally-wise purchasing and investing, based in Washington, DC.

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