By BEVERLY WOODEN
While Santa and his sleigh bells, twinkling lights and shiny packages under the tree are some of the first things that come to mind when we think of Christmas, what’s left over after the holiday season is a haze of extra consumption and waste.
In fact, Americans produce a million extra tons of garbage per week during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, according to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are any number of small things you can do to lessen the season’s carbon footprint. By taking a more thoughtful and conscious approach to the holidays and striving to reduce waste and consumption, you may find that your celebration of the season becomes more meaningful while leaving a substantially smaller impact on the environment.
1. Choose a real tree. While plastic trees can be reused, the manufacturing process requires petroleum, and eventually the trees end up in the landfill since they aren’t easily recyclable. Real trees, on the other hand, can be replanted if you choose a potted variety. They can also be recycled, mulched or composted, and real Christmas trees are typically grown specifically for the purpose, so deforestation isn’t an issue. Another benefit is that live trees absorb carbon dioxide while they’re growing. Look for a tree that’s been locally and sustainably grown and is pesticide-free.
2. Replace the lights on your tree with energy-efficient mini-lights or strands of LED lights, which use up to 90 percent less energy than traditional Christmas lights. LEDs also last much longer and often provide brighter and more vibrant colors. For outdoor decorating, choose solar-powered lights, which are becoming more widely available every year.
3. Instead of electric lights, rely on candles to create a festive holiday mood, but make sure they’re made from soy, beeswax or a natural vegetable-based wax, all of which are biodegradable and smoke-free. Paraffin candles contain petroleum residue, which isn’t good for you or the environment. If you do use candles, don’t forget to follow fire safety rules and keep them out of the reach of children and pets and away from flammable curtains and Christmas trees.
4. Make your own Christmas cards with materials you already have on hand, like last year’s calendar pictures, used cards, your children’s artwork or cardstock packaging. Homemade cards are fun to make and are more meaningful to the recipient. If there’s no time to make your own cards or you want to adopt a technological approach to the holidays, send e-cards instead. If you do purchase cards, look for those made from a high percentage of post-consumer waste.
5. Set a green table. Seek out local and organic meats and vegetables. Buying food that’s been grown or raised locally reduces your carbon footprint greatly and helps support small family farms. To find local produce and other food items, check out local farmers markets or the Oklahoma Food Cooperative (oklahomafood.coop) Buy your holiday snacks and baking supplies in bulk to reduce packaging waste. Use real plates and glasses rather than disposable. After all, special occasions are the reason you have china and nice dishes in the first place, so take the opportunity to make this holiday special and use them.
6. After the big meal, recycle your cooking oil and consider starting a compost bin or heap with your vegetable peelings if you don’t already have one. Used cooking oil can be dropped off at the Pride in McAlester Flea Market at the corner of Third Street and Wyandotte Avenue on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
7. Rethink your gift-giving. Give experiences — like restaurant gift certificates, movie tickets, massage or pedicure gift certificates, music downloads or tickets to sporting events — rather than items that involve packaging and create waste. Better yet, sponsor an animal or an acre of rainforest in the name of your most eco-conscious friends and family members.
8. When you do shop, buy local and always take along reusable shopping bags. Buying locally-made items and shopping at local stores supports the local economy and reduces the carbon footprint created when items are transported long distances.
9. Get creative with your wrapping. Wrap presents with comics from the newspaper, old maps, clothes, blankets, dishtowels, pillowcases or pretty pieces of fabric that can be reused. If you do buy wrapping paper, choose paper that’s easily recyclable (metallic paper often isn’t) or paper that’s made from hemp or recycled material.
10. Recycle, recycle, recycle. The holiday season presents lots of opportunities for recycling. With all the new items being given and received, the older items they replace can frequently be granted new life with just a little effort on your part. For example, old cell phones can be taken to Radio Shack, AT&T or U.S. Cellular for recycling. Old computers and computer accessories can be taken to Goodwill Industries, where they’ll be reused or recycled. For all the packaging those new items come in, McAlester offers a 24/7 drop-off center across from the Farmers Market in the Choctaw Parking Lot on Main Street, where you can recycle paper, cardboard, aluminum, #1 and #2 plastic, and glass. If you have used household batteries (such as AA, AAA, C, or D batteries), they can be recycled at the Pride In McAlester Flea Market.
11. Donate items that you’ve received replacements for or no longer have room for — such as clothes, furniture, and toys — to a charity organization or thrift store instead of just throwing them away. The Pride In McAlester Flea Market will even pick up your donation if you live within the city. Call 918-429-1111 for more information.
12. Make a list and check it twice to ensure you’re making smart energy choices during the holiday season. A day spent in the kitchen with a hot oven is the perfect opportunity to lower the thermostat on your central heating system. If you’re traveling to visit out-of-town relatives over the holidays, check with other family members to see if a carpool can be arranged. If you’re giving any battery-operated toys or gadgets as gifts, include a set of rechargeable batteries.
For even more green holiday ideas, check out: