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How to Be More Eco-Friendly This Holiday Season

While the holidays can be wonderful in many ways, they aren't particularly kind to the environment. But by following these eco-friendly tips, you can change that. Think of it as your present to the earth!

Present box with a green globe

Your gift to the planet

The holidays bring a flurry of joy and a plethora of presents, but they can also generate bushels of trash and damage the environment. The good news is that you don't have to be a Scrooge to make some smart choices. In fact, a few easy, mindful tweaks to your regularly scheduled holiday activities can make a big impact, keeping the air cleaner and the planet greener. An added bonus: Your wallet will also stay greener. The following ideas are truly the gifts that keep on giving—to the world and everyone in it.

Christmas trees in pots for saleChamille White/Shutterstock

Buy a potted Christmas tree

Christmas trees can pose an environmental conundrum. "More than 30 million living fir trees are cut in the United States for Christmas each year," says Sandra Ann Harris, founder of ECOlunchbox. "There's no eco relief, however, in choosing a fake tree instead, because plastic trees often contain non-biodegradable PVC and possible metal toxins, such as lead." Luckily, there's an easy fix. She suggests buying a potted Christmas tree and either planting it in your own yard after the holidays or finding a home for it at a friend's house or a local park. But if you end up going the more traditional route, check out these 10 creative ways to recycle your Christmas tree.

Christmas gift boxes collection with pine tree for mock up template design. View from above. Flat layMaglara/Shutterstock

Use recycled paper to wrap gifts

Green gifts aren't just about what's in the box—they're about what's outside it, as well. "When it comes to paper waste over the holidays, keep in mind that a whopping half of the paper consumed in the United States annually is used to wrap and decorate consumer products," says Harris. So this year, use recycled newspapers and paper bags to wrap your gifts. Don't worry: You can still make them look pretty and festive. You just won't feel guilty now about wasting brand-new paper that will be ripped off in seconds anyway. And the recycling doesn't have to stop there. Check out these 8 inventive uses for leftover wrapping paper you never thought of.

Background of colorful Christmas lightsSeDmi/Shutterstock

Switch to LED and solar-power lights

Those holiday lights may be fun and festive, but they're usually anything but eco-friendly. Swapping regular bulbs with LED or solar-power lights, however, can change all that. "LED lights use a fraction of the electricity of standard incandescent bulbs, which saves money and energy," says Mark Dawson, chief operating officer at Mister Sparky. "Most solar holiday lights can be set to turn on automatically and will shine for a few hours before running out of stored energy. [And] you won't have to remember to turn them off before bed." Plus, notes Dawson, LED lights not only use nearly 80 percent less energy—they also cut down on waste since they last a lot longer and you won't have to buy new ones as frequently.

Charging an electric car battery access to vehicle electrificationNaypong Studio/Shutterstock

Drive an electric car

This is a smart change to make any time of the year—and there's no time like the present. After all, during the holidays, you'll be shuttling between stores, parties, and other events even more than usual. Why is that such a big deal? Transportation is now the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to Mike Moran, Head of Communications at Electrify America.

Getting your gas guzzler off the road can make a big difference. "Electric vehicles give every consumer the chance to lower their carbon footprint while getting around in something that is truly fun to drive," says Moran. "With more auto and mobility companies bringing more EV choices to market, it's becoming easier for consumers to select an EV." Electrify America is making a big push to increase EV education and encourage people to start driving electric during the holidays. While buying a new car is a big commitment that may take some time, you can try these 25 simple swaps to reduce your carbon footprint today.

Old fashioned rolled oats in wooden spoonpada smith/Shutterstock

Eat clean and munch more oats

Clean, unprocessed foods that contain the least amount of artificial ingredients possible are good for your health—but they're also good for the planet. And certain choices can make a bigger impact than others. "Eating plant-based products is better for the environment, but all plant-based products are not created equal," says clean-eating expert Helena Lumme, cofounder and president of Halsa Foods. "It takes 1,900 gallons of freshwater to grow one pound of almonds, while the water footprint for growing oats is zero. That's because oats grow in a Nordic climate where rainfall is enough to irrigate the fields." Plus, these 13 holiday foods aren't worth the calories anyway.

Decorative candles made of beeswax with a honey aroma for interior and tradition.Morgit Dziuban/Shutterstock

Opt for beeswax or organic candles

You may wait all year long to bust out that pumpkin spice or gingerbread cookie candle, but you might want to invest in some new favorites this year. Why? Some candles contribute to poor indoor air quality in your home, potentially harming the environment and your health. "Most candles include paraffin (sludge waste from petroleum), which releases carcinogens when burned," explains Marla Mock, VP of Operations at Aire Serv, a Neighborly company. "Instead, opt for beeswax or organic candles that can provide ambience and a soothing effect. Unlike paraffin candles, when burnt, [they] leave no smoke or sooty residue leftover, which can contain toxic carcinogens such as benzene and toluene." Check out these other tiny everyday changes you can make to cut down on air pollution.

Child hands holding a vintage lunch box full of decorated Christmas cookiesasife/Shutterstock

Be mindful, thoughtful, and resourceful

When it comes to gifts, less is more for the environment, says Nancy Todd, PhD, professor of biology and chairwoman of the environmental studies program at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York. Here are her suggestions for smart giving:

  • Try a one-gift-per-person rule for adults.
  • Make cookies for friends and family, and put them in recyclable cardboard boxes or reusable tins.
  • Think about gifts that don't require packaging, such as gift cards.
  • Give clever coupons for a free meal or house cleaning.
  • Search for eco-friendly products that minimize the environmental impact or reduce packaging.
  • Find a gift that makes a donation to a charitable organization.

Also make sure you know these 10 pieces of gift-giving etiquette you should follow during the holidays.

Air purifiery_seki/Shutterstock

Create clean air

"Clean indoor air in a home or office not only will make the holidays healthier, but it will also help the environment by reducing emissions and saving energy," says Tony Abate, Vice President and Chief Technical Officer at AtmosAir Solutions. "In addition to saving money and keeping a home or office healthier, indoor air-quality devices also help eliminate germs, dust particles, mold, odors, mildew, and bacteria—all of which can cause illness and ruin the holidays for family and friends." Just how important is clean air? Check out these 15 scary things air pollution does to your body.

Metallic Holiday rustic table setting with succulents from abovevwPix/Shutterstock

Recycle and repurpose

Why buy new when you can use what you've already bought? It's surprisingly easy to recycle and upcycle, especially with these helpful tips from Cassandra Troy, Sustainability, Communications & Engagement Specialist at the University of Richmond in Virginia. Here are some simple eco-friendly ideas to try:

  • Pick decorations you'll use over and over again, and consider decorating with live plants.
  • Choose reusable bags or reusable fabric wrapping for gifts.
  • Save gift bags and bows to reuse in the future.
  • Send your guests home with leftovers after holiday meals and parties.
  • Recycle wrapping paper, envelopes, and cards as long as they're not metallic or glittery.
  • See if there are tree-recycling programs in your area.

Of course, you can do things like this all year long, not just on the holidays. Plus, here are 11 items you probably didn't know you could recycle or upcycle.

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