Americans throw away approximately 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period than any other time of the year. This amounts to about 25 million tons of garbage.
Additionally, a 2008 study for the U.S. Department of Energy found that festive holiday lights consume 6.63 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity every year. That accounts for more electricity than some developing countries use in an entire year.
In the holiday spirit, here are a few recommendations on how to cut down on the waste and reduce your carbon footprint.
1. Go real instead of fake for your Christmas tree.
Real Christmas trees are more eco-friendly. They are both renewable and biodegradable. During the time the tree is growing it is absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Christmas trees grow year-round and for every tree that is harvested, two to three seedlings are planted.
Plastic trees are made of non-renewable resources, specifically metal and plastics, and will eventually end up in the landfill. It can take 450 years or more for a piece of plastic to degrade.
2. Use recyclable wrapping paper.
Earth911 estimates that approximately 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper is produced each year and half of that is sent to landfills. Not all wrapping paper is recyclable. Many are dyed, laminated or contain non-paper additives. Specifically, foil or glitter decorated paper goes into the trash. If you scrunch it and it stays bunched together in a ball, it is likely recyclable. If it bounces back, it is not.
Before recycling wrapping paper, be sure to remove all remnants of tape and/or bows. Also, consider recyclable materials for your greeting cards, or send them digitally.
3. Make sure your holiday lights are LED.
LEDs use light-emitting diodes rather than filament to produce light. LEDs are known to be more efficient, durable, and longer-lasting than fluorescent and incandescent lights. Additionally, they have a much longer life-span and are not hot to the touch. Strings of LED lights are safer for decorating trees since they do not get hot.
LED holiday lights use about 75% less energy than incandescent lights. Add some automatic timers and keep the lights on for 8 hours or less per night.
4. Instead of gifts, donate. Even better, give carbon offsets.
Many gifts, while given with good intentions, end up discarded. Additionally, the shipping and packaging creates waste and have a high carbon footprint. Donations can make a big impact to a non-profit that is important to you or to your recipient.
Carbon offsets reduce the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by preventing new emissions or drawing it out of the atmosphere. The average CO2 emissions per person in the US is 16 tons. In order to tell if a credit is credible, make sure the following criteria are met: offsets should come from existing projects (not future ones), guarantee permanent reductions, and have certification from independent auditors. Some recommended sources include Terrapass, the United Nations or Cool Effect.
A few other simple steps:
1. Turn the thermostat down when you have guests
2. Get rechargeable batteries and a charger for gifts that require batteries
3. Order early and don’t choose 2-day shipping
4. Turn off room lights when the tree lights are on
5. Unplug phantom energy users before heading out of town (TVs, DVD players, computers, printers, etc.)
Vice President - Nova Energy Group