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5 Ways to Have a Green Christmas (and Help the Planet)

Insights + Opinion
Natural pine trees can liven up Christmas and the environment when they are replanted after. Cavan Images / Getty Images

It's pretty common this time of year to hear the song White Christmas, but at EcoWatch we want folks to have a green Christmas. With a couple of tips, you can make sure your winter festivities have a smaller carbon footprint. Here are five ways you can have a more environmentally friendly holiday.

1. Give Green Gifts
Share your love of the planet by giving gifts that are good for the environment. Need ideas? The EcoWatch staff rounded up their favorite gifts, and USA Today highlights items such as iTunes gift cards, reusable straws, organic wine and non-toxic cosmetics in their story about purchasing green presents.


After you decide on the perfect gift, don't forget to also be mindful about the way it's wrapped. Not all wrapping paper can be recycled. In the U.S., you can recycle paper that does not have metallic, velvety or glittery elements, USA Today explains. Alternatives to conventional wrapping paper include recycling brown grocery bags, reusing old newspapers or wrapping gifts in reusable cloth (a 400-year-old Japanese practice called Furoshiki), Madeleine Somerville writes in The Guardian.

2. Dim the Lights
Christmas lights certainly make the season bright, but there's an ecological cost to all that electricity. The U.S. consumes 6.6 billion kilowatt hours of energy each year on seasonal light displays, The Center for Global Development reports citing a 2008 study from the U.S. Department of Energy. That's more energy than developing countries like El Salvador, Ethiopia, Cambodia or Nepal use in a year!

So what can you do if you think of lights as synonymous with Christmas? In The Guardian, Jessica Aldred suggests switching to LED, solar-powered or rechargeable-battery-powered lights. She also points out that "paraffin candles are made from petroleum residue ... Candles made from soy, beeswax or natural vegetable-based wax are more eco-friendly because they biodegrade and are smoke-free."

3. Choose the Right Tree
Christmas trees are so popular that 75 percent of Americans display a Christmas tree, with a majority of them choosing an artificial one, The New York Times reports, based on an analysis from the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA). But is that the greenest option? While a new study by ACTA found that an artificial tree is more environmentally friendly than a real tree if you use the artificial tree for five years or more, others dispute that claim.

Bill Ulfelder, New York's Nature Conservancy executive director, told The Times that "real trees were 'unquestionably' the better option." When bought locally, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. Other ways to make your real tree purchase more environmentally friendly are to buy trees that can be replanted or find a local program that recycles trees and turns them into mulch.

4. Have a Glitter-Free Christmas
EcoWatch has written before about the dangers of glitter, which contributes to the microplastic pollution plaguing the oceans. Olga Pantos, a research scientist with New Zealand's Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), told Stuff that on a recent shopping trip that "it was almost impossible to find anything that didn't have glitter." So, choosing non-glittery decorations can help keep microplastics out of the oceans.

5. Help Fight #PointlessPlastic
Greenpeace UK is calling out supermarkets for their unnecessary plastic packaging of festive items, and they want you to join the fight. With the hashtag #PointlessPlastic, they are encouraging people to share photos of the worst offenses in supermarkets. Greenpeace will then ask the public to vote on the most egregious. "By exposing the worst festive plastic offenders, we'll be showing supermarkets that their use of plastic is unacceptable, and that their customers have had enough," Greenpeace states on it website.

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