Deck the Halls Without Wrecking the Planet

Decking the halls is hard on the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generate five million tons of trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day—25 percent more than a six-week period at any other time of the year.

This year, make a point of giving a gift to Mother Earth: Instead of energy-draining light displays and gifts wrapped in eight layers of paper, celebrate the season by making a few eco-friendly changes to your holiday celebrations.

Decorate with LED holiday lights.

Turn your home into one of the most festive and eco-friendly on the block with LED holiday lights. Most retailers stock energy-efficient holiday lights made with light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, that are 90 percent more efficient than traditional Christmas lights and last longer—up to 10,000 hours compared with 5,000 hours for incandescent bulbs.

Put your holiday lights on timers.

Leaving your holiday lights turned on 24 hours a day will quadruple your energy costs—and create four times the pollution—as leaving them on for six hours. Set your timer to turn the lights on at dusk and leave them on until you go to bed. You’ll be able to enjoy the lights all evening without burning energy overnight.

Decorate with natural materials.

You can make beautiful holiday decorations with items found in nature: A bowl of evergreen boughs and fresh fruit, a basket filled with fallen branches, winter berries and pinecones and seasonal plants like poinsettias make inexpensive holiday décor. Once the holidays are over, your decorations can be added to the compost pile.

Use eco-friendly packing materials to mail gifts.

Mail your holiday gifts in boxes padded with recycled newspaper or the leftover paper in your shredder. You can also use real peanuts and include a note asking the recipient to feed them to the squirrels once the box is unpacked. These green materials will protect your packages just as well as bubble wrap or Styrofoam but have none of the negative impacts on the environment. Styrofoam accounts for up to 25 percent of the waste in our landfills.

Buy a cut Christmas tree.

Nearly all cut Christmas trees were grown on tree farms, which means that their stock is replenished yearly and forests aren’t depleted. Cut trees are a much greener choice than artificial trees that are made with petroleum-based materials and often shipped thousands of miles before they reach your living room. Unlike artificial trees, which eventually end up in the landfill, cut trees can be recycled after the holidays.

Wrap presents in gift bags.

Once you tear the wrapping paper off of a holiday gift, it ends up in the recycle bin but gift bags can be used over and over again. Look for gift bags made with recycled content or purchase plain paper bags and decorate them with recycled holiday cards. If every family in the U.S. reused two feet of holiday ribbon, it would save 38,000 miles of the stuff—enough to tie a bow around the entire planet.

Recycle your Christmas tree.

After the holidays are over, don’t put your Christmas tree at the curb. Instead of taking up space in the landfill, trees can be ground into woodchips and used to mulch your garden or prevent erosion at a local watershed. Go to and enter your zip code to find out where to have your Christmas tree recycled.

Excerpted from The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference (Alpha Books).

Jodi Helmer is a freelance writer who specializes in writing about eco-friendly topics. Visit her at

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