The holidays can be filled with excess: It’s easy to overdo it by eating too much, drinking too much, and spending too much. And if you’re like the Griswalds in the Christmas Vacation movie, maybe you put up too many lighted energy-hogging decorations, too. With most of us concerned about our carbon footprints and being more economical, here are some suggestions to help make your holidays greener and maybe even less expensive.
Make or bake your gift: Homemade gifts, such as cookies or a jar of preserved jam or fruit, are heartfelt gifts. Canning is once again popular and a lot simpler than it may seem.
Give a greener gift: Give a gift made of recycled materials that reduces products that go into the waste stream. Or give a gift to inspire someone to live a more sustainable lifestyle, like a travel coffee mug or reusable water bottle.
Buy locally: Shop for gifts that are made locally and support local merchants. Locally made gifts do not need to be transported from halfway around the globe. Visiting a local craft fair is a great way to find artisan treasures. (Editor’s note: the SFMade Gift Fair takes place Dec. 13–14 at Fort Mason Center. For details, see the Calendar). Also, spending your money at a local business reinvests that money back into your community.
Gift wrap: Far from eco-friendly, holiday wrap is seldom made from 100 percent recycled paper. Even worse, many wraps contain foil or foil elements, which cannot be recycled. Recyclable kraft paper from a shopping bag tied with raffia bows makes for a tasteful gift wrap. Look for gift wrap, bags, and tags that are made of recycled materials and are chlorine free.
Shopping bags: These are reusable, as well as stylish. Simply put the gift inside and tie the handles to make a bow or tie them together with raffia. You can decorate with a beautiful bulb or some jingly bells to dress it up even more. Or let the contents, such as gourmet snacks, overflow from the bag.
Newspaper: For children’s gifts, use the Sunday comics; for sports lovers, use the sports pages.
Fabric swatches: If you’re a seamstress or crafter, use leftover swatches and scraps to make attractive gift wrap.
Reuse and repurpose: Reuse wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows. Instead of buying boxes, save coffee canisters or shoe boxes and wrap them. These work well for baked holiday treats, too.
Peanuts and pasta: Instead of bubble wrap and Styrofoam peanuts to cushion fragile items, try using unshelled peanuts or uncooked pasta noodles.
Find inspiration from nature: Mother Nature can be the best source for wonderful ideas and inspiration. A walk on the beach or a hike in the woods can produce sprigs of berries, branches, pinecones, and seashells that can be used to decorate a Christmas tree or holiday dinner table. Seasonal fruits and vegetables like apples, pears, pumpkins, and squash make stunning centerpieces and fireplace accents. Go old school and string cranberries and popcorn for festive decorations — an ideal family activity.
Choose LED: Swapping traditional holiday lights with newer LED versions is a simple way to reduce energy consumption during the holidays. LED lights can be more expensive that standard lights, but the energy savings more than make up for the cost over the lifetime of the strand. There are LED light strands on the market now that look exactly like the traditional mini lights.
Use timers and power strips: Attach lights to timers for even more efficiency. A wide range of outdoor and indoor timers make it easy to find one that suits your needs. Power strips are another energy-saving option because they allow power to be shut off from a power adapter.
Living trees: Instead of a cut Christmas tree or an artificial tree, often made of petroleum-based products, consider a living tree that can be reused year after year. Remember to repot the tree into a larger container when it becomes too small for the original one.
Cut trees: If you choose a cut tree, San Francisco mulches trees that are put curbside after the holidays. Trees should not contain tinsel or other ornaments and should not be in plastic bags. Instead, wrap a washable sheet or blanket around a tree to contain the dropped needles when carrying it outside.