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A man wrapping a present.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans toss 25 percent more trash than usual — that’s 1 million extra tons of garbage weekly. Consider these environment-friendly choices and you can not only reduce waste but help keep our world a little cleaner during Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and other holidays.

Holiday Trees & Decor

Opt for real Christmas trees or Hanukkah bushes. If you want a live tree, visit a local, sustainable tree farm. Or consider a potted tree that you can plant when the ground thaws in the spring.

Dispose of your tree by finding a holiday-tree recycling initiative near you or, if your community offers the service, put it out for curbside pickup and composting. You can also turn it into a bird feeder by stringing it with fruit or pinecones coated with birdseed.

Choose energy-efficient LED holiday lights for decorating; they use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, plus they last many seasons longer, according to the EPA. Put your lights on a timer to save even more energy. Old light strings can be recycled thanks to several progressive companies such as and


Think outside the store: Give homemade presents, such as crafts or foods, educational gifts, or experiences instead of more stuff. And when you do buy gifts, opt for durable, recyclable, energy-efficient ones, or items made from natural products. Shipping a gift? Save and reuse packing material.

Avoid gag gifts and donate unwanted gifts to charity. Sixty-two percent of Americans will receive an unwanted gift during the holidays — and while a third will return them, another third throw unwelcome presents straight into the trash.

Rethink the gift wrap. Up to half of the paper Americans consume is used to wrap and decorate products. Instead, reuse gift bags, wrapping paper, and tissue paper.

Or consider other creative options, such as old maps, posters, calendars, newspaper comics, or fabric. You could also wrap the present in another gift, such as a scarf, dish towel, or cloth napkin. (For ideas, visit “Zero-Waste Gift Wrapping”.)

Consider alternatives to ribbon, such as string and yarn, or save and reuse old ribbon. Every year, Americans discard 38,000 miles of ribbon, enough to wrap around the planet, with more left over to tie a big bow, according to the National Environmental Education Foundation.

All the Trimmings

Send holiday wishes in recycled-content cards and envelopes. Americans buy 2.65 billion Christmas cards annually — enough to fill a football stadium 10 stories high, according to the Stanford University recycling project. Avoid glossy cards and wrapping paper; though pretty, these materials are not recyclable.

Or make your own cards or gift tags out of last year’s cards and the wrapping paper you saved. You might even go paperless thanks to the array of companies offering elegant electronic cards.

Remove your name from the mailing lists of mail-order catalogs you no longer wish to receive.

Offer rechargeable batteries and a charger if you’re giving a gift that requires batteries. Americans throw away an uncountable number of disposable batteries annually — billions, according to the EPA. Or consider rechargeable batteries as a standalone gift.

Holiday Meals

Forgo food waste with some thoughtful planning. Each year, Americans discard 30 to 40 percent of their food — 133 billion pounds. Count your guests, plan menus, and buy only what you need. And invest in some sustainable food storage for all those tasty leftovers.

Bring out the real plates and flatware for special meals instead of paper plates and single-use plastic utensils. It’s a special time! And invite family, kids, or even helpful guests to join together and lend a hand with washing the dishes. It’s all in the holiday spirit.

This article originally appeared in Experience LifeLife Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.

Michael Dregni

Michael Dregni is an Experience Life deputy editor.

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