The holidays bring a wealth of blessings, good feelings and extra garbage.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 25% more waste is produced around the holidays.
But a little ingenuity and some strategic choices can help reduce garbage and maybe reduce emissions that contribute to greenhouse gasses.
The Tree: Real or Fake?
Artificial trees are made in China from steel and PVC and shipped to the U.S. Real trees are transported a shorter distance and pull emissions from the atmosphere as they grow.
But the environmental choice is a little complicated.
Varying estimates say that an artificial tree hits a break-even point and becomes more environmental than a live tree between seven and 20 years into its use. With many of these trees now pre-lit, the bulbs often burn out and you need to replace them sooner than that.
So if you do opt for an artificial tree (it is a better financial choice), get the ones that aren’t lit and bring your own string of replaceable lights.
If you get a live tree, the most important factor to consider is how you dispose of it. Many municipalities have curbside tree-cycling or you can take the tree to a facility that will chip and mulch it.
If you live on a chunk of land, the best option is to take it outside and let it mulch. These options sequester the stored carbon in the tree and redeposit it back into the soil.
If you throw it in the trash or burn it, that carbon goes straight back into the atmosphere.
Lights: Use technology to turn them on and off
Smart plugs connect to your Wi-Fi network and you control them with an app on your phone. You can create a schedule where they turn on and off. Added bonus: you can use your Alexa or Google home smart speaker to turn them on with our voice.
I use the TP-Link HS103 Kasa Smart Plug Lite.
Power strips with wireless remote switches allow you to place the on/off switch for your tree lights someplace central and easy to access. When you walk out the door it’s just another switch to click instead of burying your arm in the tree reaching for that always-obscure plug or power strip where the lights plug in.
Analog timer plugs also work to set a light schedule. They are a little harder to override but easier to set up.
Pro Tip: If you run an extension cord from an inside outlet to your exterior lights and displays, these work for setting those power hogs on a timer too.
Wrapping paper is often not recyclable. Anything with glitter, laminated or embedded with velvet flocking cannot be recycled.
The best way to determine if paper is recyclable is to scrunch it up. If it wrinkles and stays scrunched up, recycle it. If not, trash it.
One of the best options is to choose compostable/recyclable wrapping paper made from recycled paper. I like the options from Wrappily -- gorgeous and good for the earth.
Bows and ribbons are not recyclable, and they can royally screw up the belts and picking machinery of a recycling facility.
Trash the bows you use and in lieu of buying new ones -- get crafty and use jute string (compostable), greenery or even clothing shreds. So much of our clothing is thrown away that you might as well as use colorful fabric instead of unrecyclable new bows and ribbons.
Online shopping choices for the environment
Much of the environmental impact that can be made with online shopping needs to be done by retailers at a big scale. Amazon says it will commit to the standards set by the Paris climate agreement for carbon reductions across the entire company. But instead of committing to the accords' 2050 deadline, Amazon has committed to implementing the appropriate changes by 2040.
It is debuting a new mailer that is 100% recyclable in addition of its ubiquitous plastic bubble wrap mailer that can be more challenging to recycle. (Find out where you can here.)
Manufacturers that sell on Amazon and through other online retailers are opting for frustration-free packaging for online purchases that reduces plastic and waste. You can opt for that packaging when ordering.
Also a counterintuitive choice: Amazon one-day shipping seems like it would cause a lot of transportation emissions, but the company tells us that anything listed as one-day shipping is already warehoused in close proximity to the shopper, so its transport distance is actually less than things that take more time to deliver.
If at all possible, the best online shopping choice from Amazon is to opt for Amazon Day, where all your purchases from the week are grouped for delivery on just one day.