For Americans, the holiday season is synonymous with indulgence – food, drinks, shopping, gifts, parties, and traveling. Unfortunately, all the extras around the holidays take their toll on more than just your waistline and pocketbook. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, American’s create 6 million tons of extra waste. That’s 25% more waste per week than any other time of year! With that number continuing to climb, it’s important to be aware of our environmental impact during the holidays. But don’t think of this is one more thing to stress about this season. Reducing, reusing and recycling are easier than you think. Implement some of these simple strategies over the next month and consider it your holiday gift to Mother Nature. In the process, you can save money, time and calories! Shopping & Gift Giving It’s safe to say that a good amount of the holiday season is spent shopping & delivering the perfect gift for everyone on the list. With just a few painless changes, you can lessen your environmental impact and still present your loved ones with that one-of-a-kind gift they’ll love and remember for years to come. Bring Your Own Bags. The most popular way to “go green” while shopping is also the easiest – simply bring along your reusable grocery bags to reduce the number of plastic bags headed to the landfill. Popular gifts (especially electronics) are regularly outfitted with excessive packaging, which is then covered in wrap, ribbons, bows and name tags. Even gift cards are cashed in for products that are taken home in boxes and more bags. Lessen the load by remembering to bring your own bag. This will also make it harder for family members to figure out where you’ve been shopping for their gifts! Experiential Gifts. Pop quiz: What did you get for the holidays last year? Chances are, you can’t even remember. This year, consider the recipient’s interests and hobbies and purchase a unique experience to ensure that yours is an unforgettable gift. Send a child on a whale watching trip or buy passes for the dinosaur exhibit at the local museum. Snag a couple tickets to a concert your spouse will love. Or pick up the tab for that new restaurant or art class your best friend can’t stop talking about. The memories created will outlast any clothing items, electronics, or toys that you might have picked up otherwise. And isn’t the holiday season really about creating memories with loved ones? Shop Online. Running around from store to store can be inconvenient and exhausting – and that isn’t even considering the amount of time and gas wasted. Shop online to easily compare prices, simplify your shopping experience and eliminate the crowds. Plus, skipping the extra trip to the mall reduces the emissions that contribute to air pollution. Bonus points if you have the gifts shipped directly to the recipient (gift wrap optional). The package may not show up covered in bells and whistles but it is still sure to surprise! Buy local. It takes a substantial amount of energy (and creates an alarming amount of waste) for cargo ships to bring loads halfway around the world. Choosing American-made items are less taxing on the environment and help to create jobs and keep Americans employed. Whether you’re looking for everyday items or one-of-a-kind gifts, online directories like BuyAmerican.com, AmericansWorking.com and MadeinUSA.org provide information and links for products made right here in the U.S. If you opt for providing the gift of good health, you’ll be pleased to know that VitaMedica products are made in the U.S. Recycled Gift Wrapping. For those gifts that just need to be wrapped, simply reuse old wrapping and gift bags. Or get a bit more creative and repurpose newspaper cartoons, brown paper grocery bags, music sheets, posters or old map pages for a one of a kind look. Fabric is also a good option; for example, use a beautifully printed scarf secured with a bow or a nice cloth gift bag that’s sure to be reused (like the ones available at Lucky Crow). Use the front of old holiday cards to decorate packages. If you have your heart set on pretty paper cards and wrap, look for eco-friendly options like those made from recycled or recyclable paper (what’s the difference?). Also, look for or wrap that uses environmentally friendly inks and paper fibers. For example, companies like Green Field Paper Company uses recycled materials, hemp fiber and plantable seed papers. Check out Fish Lips Paper Designs for 100% recycled wrapping paper in a variety of modern designs that use soy based inks. Other companies like Of The Earth use vegetable dyes on their seeded, lotka (a cotton fiber) and recycled papers and ribbons, proving that you can have beautiful cards, ribbons and wrap without the waste. E-Cards. Send your holiday cards and photos by email. Soften the environmental blow by eliminating paper cards, envelopes, and stamps (not to mention the time saved by not having to sign, stamp and mail all those cards plus the savings on postage). With hundreds of design options, websites like Egreetings.com, Smilebox and Care2 offer free, customizable and interactive options for every family. Holiday Decorating Whether you’re decorating your house, a tree, a mantle, or a dining room table, what’s a celebration without festive decorations? But your holiday decorating doesn’t have to be boring to be eco-friendly. In fact, you can be as festive as ever without scrimping on the bling. Christmas Tree. If you celebrate the holidays with a traditional Christmas tree, you may opt for an artificial version because they are more cost effective and seem to be better for the environment. Plus, the cost of an artificial tree can be broken down over the number of years it is used and can certainly be a budget-friendly investment. For example, a $100 artificial tree that lasts for 10 years, costs only $10.00 per year. But don’t be so quick to overlook the amount of energy and petroleum it takes to produce the artificial trees. Additionally, some brands use lead to soften the fake pines, making these versions unsafe for households, especially those with small children. If you already own an artificial tree, check the box to determine the lead content. Conversely, live Christmas trees are now farmed specifically for the holiday season. And each year, just one acre of live trees can absorb over 11,000 pounds of CO2. After the holiday, live trees can be recycled and used as mulch, making them the true eco-friendly option. Not sure how where to recycle your tree? Search websites like Earth911 for a recycling center near you. A live tree is certainly better for the earth but if you do choose to purchase an artificial tree, make sure you plan to keep it for many years and try to pick one up that was made in America. For more information on the “live tree” versus “artificial tree” debate, check out the National Christmas Tree Association webpage. Energy Efficient Lighting. Making the switch to energy-efficient LED lights should be on the top of your list this holiday season. Light Emitting Diodes, or LED lights, are a great alternative to traditional incandescent lighting. The technology behind LED lighting allows them to use only 10-15% of the energy of a traditional bulb while staying cool to the touch, reducing the risk of fire no matter how long they’re left on. Also, the lifespan of and LED bulb used indoors is 100,000 hours, or roughly 11 years of continuous glow (outdoor versions last about half that time)! An added bonus for holiday string lights is that the loss of one bulb doesn’t short-circuit the whole string. LED lights are relatively affordable, with strings ranging from $10 to $30. Pick up your new lighted decorations at major retailers like Lowes and Target. And don’t forget to pick up extra bulbs for around the house to cut your energy bill all year long. Eco-friendly Ornaments. When shopping for new ornaments this year, opt for ones made of metal, wood or plastic – more durable materials mean you won’t be picking up broken pieces or shopping for a new set each year. And if you’re bored with the same old decorations year after year, have a pre-holiday swap with friends and neighbors before hitting the mall. Better yet, gather your loved ones and create homemade ornaments reminiscent of your childhood (think popcorn & cranberry strings). After your celebrations, these strings can be hung outside to feed the birds. If you’re looking to buy ornaments that are already eco-friendly, check out online directories like Great Green Goods and eco-artware.com, who offer trendy holiday ornaments made of recycled materials. Spending Time with Family & Friends One of the best things about the holidays is the opportunity to spend time with loved ones. If your holiday season is anything like ours, it probably involves a lot of traveling and time spent around the dinner table. Holiday Travel. This year, switch up your travel plans and let someone else take the wheel. Riding the train is the most energy efficient means of transportation. If you have children, this can double as an educational excursion. Not only is the extra time spent kinder to the environment, but can also significantly reduce stress brought on by heavy traffic and missed turns. But, for those of you who just can’t give up the keys, consider renting a hybrid or electric car for your road trip. Energy efficient vehicles are increasingly being offered in many markets by the major car rental companies and travel sites (Enterprise, Avis, Orbitz, Budget, Travelocity). Prepare Less Food. Once you’ve made it to your destination, you can finally eat, drink and be merry! Unfortunately, the USDA estimates that 52 billion pounds of food is wasted every year – that’s 170 pounds per person. Think of the all energy wasted on producing and preparing that amount of food! At the table, be mindful of what you put on your plate. Don’t just toss out what you didn’t finish. Start with less than you think you can eat, it just might fill you up. And besides, you can always go back for seconds. Don’t worry; your skinny jeans will thank you. Bring out the China. Avoid using disposable plates, silverware, paper towels and napkins. This helps to reduce our impact on Mother Earth. Take the extra time between dinner and dessert to wash the dishes or load the dishwasher. This also helps to protect your waistline by giving your brain time to register just how full you are before diving into the pie. By practicing just a few of these simple strategies throughout the holiday season, you can cut down on waste, energy and pollution. Encourage just one friend or family member to participate with you and you’ve already doubled your contribution to the environment. And since you’re already in the habit, why stop at New Year’s Day? Many of these tips will work for any occasion, all year long!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.