By Caitlin Savage, Intern Naturalist
As the winter season draws near, many people are hoping for a white Christmas, especially due to the lack of snow last year. This year, however, I want to encourage you to have a “green” Christmas! Here are a few simple suggestions to make your holiday season more environmentally friendly:
1. Make your own gifts
Many people struggle to pick out the perfect gifts for their loved ones during the holiday season. What better way to express your appreciation than to put the time and effort into making a gift for someone? Come to River Bend’s “DIY Up-cycled Winter Crafts” event on December 15th from 10am—noon to learn how to make your own winter crafts to give out as Christmas presents (materials are provided). This program is open to all ages and costs $3 per River Bend member, $5 per nonmember, or $10 per nonmember family.
Food is another great gift idea! Although college students are particularly appreciative of homemade goodies, people of all ages will enjoy this thoughtful gift. If you’re not much of a cook, you could consider offering out another service. For example, give the gift of a free babysitting session to busy family members, or offer to walk someone’s dog for a couple weeks during the cold winter.
2. Use more sustainable Christmas trees
It is a common misconception that a reusable artificial tree is more sustainable than a real tree. In reality, artificial trees use unsustainable resources such as petroleum to manufacture, and more resources are used to package and ship them. Since they are made of non-recyclable materials, they eventually wind up in a landfill, where they will remain for a long time, perhaps indefinitely.
Instead, buy a real tree from a local tree farm. Picking out a tree together is a great opportunity to spend time with family or friends! After the holiday season ends, you can mulch or recycle it. One way to recycle a tree is to donate it to River Bend so we can use it on our trails! For a $10 donation ($15 for nonmembers) we will pick up your tree for recycling, or for $5 you can drop your tree off at River Bend for recycling.
3. Use alternative wrapping paper
Gift packaging is one of the main contributors of excess waste during the holidays. Consider using alternative wrapping paper this year. Newspaper and magazine pages make excellent wrapping paper. Brown paper bags can also be used as wrapping paper and decorated to your liking. Fabric scraps are useful to wrap gifts or to make bows and ribbons. If you would prefer to use actual wrapping paper, purchase paper made from recycled materials. You can also save wrapping paper to reuse the next year (although when excited kids are involved, there may not be anything salvageable left!)
4. Decrease energy used by holiday lights
One way to decrease your energy usage for the holidays is by using LED lights instead of incandescent. LED lights use less energy and are cooler to the touch than incandescent. However, they are typically more expensive, and some people aren’t as fond of the aesthetics of the LED. If you would prefer not to use LED lights, try reducing the amount of time that you keep your Christmas lights plugged in. Make sure that you only have them on during the dark hours, when they are most easily visible. Also, consider keeping them off while you are asleep. If you have Christmas lights indoors, make sure to turn them off when other lights in the room are on.
5. Spend quality time with family and friends
Go outside and embrace the winter weather! Get a group of friends and family together to go sledding, build a snow fort, or start a giant snowball fight. Skiing, ice-skating, and snow-shoeing are popular, “green” winter activities. Snowshoes are available to rent at River Bend throughout the winter ($5/member, $10/nonmember; there must be at least 6 in. of snow to rent snowshoes). If you prefer to spend time indoors away from the cold, invite some friends or family over to enjoy some hot chocolate and remind yourself of what the holidays are truly about.
I hope you find that some of these suggestions will help you have a greener holiday season. Even small changes can make a big impact. Happy Holidays!
Caitlin Savage is an intern naturalist for the River Bend Nature Center, a member supported non-profit dedicated to helping people discover, enjoy, understand and preserve the incredible natural world that surrounds us. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 507-332-7151.