CAP's Tips for Making Your Holidays More Ecological!

Give the Planet a holiday gift this season -
and make a healthier world for yourself and others!

You can express your love for your friends and family, and also reduce your ecological footprint, educate your kids about living ecologically, and truly honor the gift of our lives on this beautiful planet.

Here are some great ideas for doing just that.

If you have other great ideas and suggestions for greening the holidays, please let me know!

- Patricia Dines, Eco-Writer, President of CAP

p.s. You can also read my Ask EcoGirl holidays-related columns at

Also, for related book gift ideas, see my blog's Favorite Books page.


A great place to start is reducing the amount of waste you generate - and helping others to do the same.

According to the L.A. County of Public Works, every year Americans generate an additional 6 million tons of waste between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Holiday cards alone add an additional 4.4 million tons of trash!

A quick way to do this is to practice the 3 Rs in everything you do - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

So that means, during holiday season and all year round:

(1) Buy fewer products;

(2) If you're going to buy a product, check out buying used first;

(3) Otherwise, look for truly green gifts, made from green materials and helping your giftee in being green.This includes buying recycled products to create the market for recycled materials, and complete the loop.

OK, so what does that all mean exactly?


>> For a great overview of how you can give eco-gifts, see my article, Greening Your Gifting.

>> You can get lots more information about this and other eco-topics in my Ask EcoGirl columns and the Index for my Next STEP newsletter

And here are some more specific ideas.


* CONSIDER A POTTED CHRISTMAS TREE. Purchase a live (potted) Christmas tree and plant it after the holidays. If you can't replant your tree, compost it along with your wreaths and other "live" materials.

* BUY ENERGY-EFFICIENT LED HOLIDAY LIGHTS. For more information on the cost-savings and other benefits, see

* DECORATE NATURALLY. Decorate with natural decorations, like strings of popcorn and cranberries, or squash, fruits, fallen twigs, pine boughs, and seeds. Kids can help you find the materials and put them together; you reduce industrial use and toxic waste; and you get goodies for your compost pile or birds, rather than waste.

* USE REUSABLE PLACE SETTINGS. Set tables with linens and china instead of disposable paper plates, plastic cups, and utensils. Wash plastic cups and utensils and use them again.

* BE CAREFUL WITH HOLIDAY PLANTS. Some holiday plants can make children and pets ill if eaten. Keep plants like these out of their curious reach: Boxwood, english ivy, holly, mistletoe, poinsettia, and toyon.

* KEEP YOUR PETS SAFE. For tips on keeping your home safe for your pets during the holidays, see


* CLEAN WITH LESS-TOXIC ALTERNATIVES. Many cleaners have hidden toxics. You can make your home sparkle without them! Look at the product labels in your home and find non-toxic alternatives at the store to clean your house and clothes, polish your furniture, clear clogged drains, etc. Or look for books or websites to find out how you can clean most of your house with just baking soda, vinegar, and (biodegradable) detergent soap - making a healthier home and environment - and saving you lots of money!

* USE REAL SCENTS. Instead of using commercial scents that have mystery ingredients (including toxic ones!), freshen your house with real scents - fresh flowers; herbs in a pot of water on the stove; and herbs like cinnamon in your fireplace. Much better!

>> For more on both of the above items, see


* CHOOSE ECOLOGICAL CARDS. Choose holiday cards made from recycled paper and envelopes. Avoid glitter or shiny paper.

* MAKE HOLIDAY POSTCARDS OR GIFT TAGS from last year's holiday cards by cutting off the front flap, writing on the back. Keep this year's cards for next holiday season.

* OR NOT. Even better, send holiday cards via e-mail.


"Remember that the holidays are not about giving and receiving things,
but about giving and receiving love.
Gifts that are beneficial for the earth increase the love,
the true intent behind gift giving."
Rhonda Hill < >

In choosing your gifts, look for those that help us all create a healthier, less-toxic world. Some ideas:

- A great choice is The Green Kitchen Handbook, by Annie Berthold-Bond, which gives an action-oriented overview of many food and household issues and alternatives.
- Nature books are also a nurturing choice for young and old alike!
- A calendar, book, or other goodies from an environmental organization (like a Sierra Club calendar), that also supports their work!
- For more book ideas, see

* GIVE GIFTS THAT SUPPORT PEOPLE IN BEING MORE ECOLOGICAL. Consider an activity that the person you're buying for does regularly, then think of a gift that could lessen that activity's impact on the environment. Some ideas: A refillable Thermos bottle for coffee or tea (to avoid stryofoam cups); a backyard recycling kit; cloth napkins; a battery charger and rechargeable batteries; a solar-powered calculator; educational eco-toys; and a pretty cloth grocery bag (the best solution to the paper-or-plastic debate!). Note: For a great selection of cloth bags, see

* GIVE GIFTS THAT ARE BETTER FOR THE PLANET. Look for organic body and bath products using all natural ingredients. When buying clothes, sleepwear, bedding, or towels, look for organically-grown options. Look for hemp backpacks, hip-packs, hats, wallets, jewelry, jeans, shirts, coffee filters, checkbook holders, luggage, paper and cards. Hemp is durable and good for the planet! Consider buying them a membership in an environmental organization so they can feel part of making a better world for everyone.

* LOOK FOR THESE QUALITIES IN GIFTS: Durable (so they'll last a long time); minimally packaged (to reduce waste); energy-efficient; recycled (for example, recycled paper as well as antiques or used bikes); recyclable; and not made of tropical woods like teak, rosewood or mahogany. Toys that wind up or use rechargeable batteries are also more environmentally-friendly.

* OFFER EXPERIENCES NOT PRODUCTS. A coupon for babysitting, a day helping clean out the garage, cookie-making lessons, a pre-paid class registration, a gift certificate for a massage, theatre tickets, or a night out on the town can be easy gifts that mean a lot and help build relationships!

* WHEN YOU GO SHOPPING, shop with a friend to reduce wasteful driving and make the experience more fun for the both of you. And take your own bags along (cloth if possible) or consolidate your purchases into one bag.


* LOOK FOR RECYCLED PAPER AND CHLORINE FREE, when buying calendars for your home or office or as gifts. Buying recycled reduces new trees cut down and supports the market for recycled. Buying chlorine-free reduces the toxic chlorine that's in our shared environment and encourages the paper industry to shift away from chlorine-bleaching.

* CONSIDER CALENDARS FROM ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS & OTHER NON-PROFITS. Then your money will also be supporting their work!


* BUY BETTER WRAPPING PAPER: To minimize holiday waste that just ends up in landfills, minimize your use of wrapping paper. If you buy wrapping paper, choose recycled - and chlorine-free if possible. Be aware that mylar and foil wraps and papers with metallic surfaces can't be recycled.

* CREATE WRAPPING PAPER. Get creative with wrapping -- reuse magazines, newspapers, comics, sports pages, junk mail, old maps, old fabrics, or even brown bags tied with reusable raffia, twine, ribbons, or bows. Kids can help by drawing and stamping kraft paper with pretty images. Decorate packages or paper bags with fallen leaves, twigs, and flowers. Finding the materials together can be a fun adventure! Another idea: Purchase and re-use holiday-themed gift bags made of sturdy paper or cloth!

* USE WRAPPING ALTERNATIVES. Create a basket of goodies. Wrap gifts in useful items such as kitchen utensils in an oven mitt or a kitchen towel. Put gifts in hatboxes tied with ribbon. Tie up packages with something useful such as shoestrings, lace ribbon, or measuring tape. Or hang jewelry like bracelet, necklaces or earrings right on the tree.

* DON'T BURN WRAPPING PAPER IN THE FIREPLACE. Wrapping paper, ribbons, and packaging can create a "flash fire," as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely. Wrapping paper can contain lead as well as metallic materials that can be toxic if burned.

* REUSE, DONATE, OR RECYCLE YOUR WRAPPING PAPER. If you're not going to reuse papers, save the colorful ones for the "Thousand Cranes Project". Call Sachiko at (707) 792-1946 for more information. When you're done, recycle all paper except those with metallic surfaces.


* BUY LOCAL ORGANIC FOOD. Support local less-toxic agriculture by purchasing organic food for guests and as gifts. Nurture your guests and share with them the joy of our wonderful local organic bounty. A great way to encourage them to eat delicious organic food in their lives - good for their health and the planet's. What a great way to be loving to those you care about!

* BAKE LESS-TOXICALLY. When making those holiday treats, avoid regular food dyes and use less-toxic natural alternatives.

* COMPOST. Fall is a great time to start a compost pile and create luscious dark earth for your garden (and remove food and yard waste from landfills). Show your holiday guests where to deposit their scraps, and perhaps inspire them to do the same at home! For more about home composting, see


* RECYCLE. Recycling cans, glass, cardboard, paper and plastic is especially important during this time since such a huge amount of waste is generated. Purchase minimally packaged foods and bake goodies from fresh ingredients. Compost your food scraps. For more about home composting, see

* REUSE RIBBON. Reuse ribbons and bows, as most cannot be recycled. If everyone reused only two feet of holiday ribbon, enough ribbon would be saved to tie a bow around the entire planet.

* DONATE OLD ITEMS. Don't throw away old toys or clothing. Donate them to a charitable organization to ensure they are reused.

* RECYCLE PAPER. Recycle wrapping paper and cards with mixed paper. Papers with metallic surfaces cannot be recycled.

* RECYCLE PACKAGING. Recycle foam packaging and "peanuts" at a local drop-off or buy-back recycling center.

* REUSE GREETING CARDS. You can reuse your holiday cards! You and/or your family can cut out pretty images from this years' cards and paste them onto paper stock for next year - and even add your own embellishments!


For more ideas and information, see this website:

For leads for recycled and non-tree paper products, see the bottom of this webpage

Thanks to everyone for their input of ideas, including a wide range of websites!

Have some tips of your own? Please let me know!

Information courtesy of:

"Information Empowering Action for a Healthier World"


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Page last updated 12/12/12.