In the spirit of the holidays and the Paris climate accords, this Weekly Warm-Up offers five ways to make your White Christmas green. Or, for those of you who live in warmer climes, five ways to make your Green Christmas even greener.
1. Buy a re-plantable Christmas tree: I’d never heard of such a thing until fellow intern and green-queen extraordinaire Hilary told me her family does this every year. Although very few places in the United States actually market it, the idea is simple: Buy an evergreen with its root ball still attached, enjoy it for the holiday season—then return it to the nursery, plant it in your backyard, or donate it to a local park! Swanson’s in Seattle, Washington is one such nursery that will take back the tree and re-plant it in Pipers Creek, a salmon habitat that needs conifers and other trees to maintain a healthy stream for the fish.
Another organization in the Pacific Northwest calls itself the “Original Potted Christmas Tree Company.” They pick up trees from the Portland and Eugene, Oregon, areas and replant them in watersheds all over the Northwest. They also have great tips on other ways to get a living Christmas tree if you don’t live in the Portland, Oregon area.
Whatever kind of tree you buy, make sure it’s real! According to the Environmental News Network, real trees are better for the environment than fake plastic ones. Check out the full story to read more.
2. Wrap gifts in recycled paper: My mother is the master of recycling wrapping paper (and ribbons) year after year. In fact, we have an entire closet in our house dedicated to wrapping materials, most of which have been used and re-used many times. Newspaper makes excellent (and often nicely-sized!) wrapping paper, especially if you use the comics and other colored or graphic sections. Here at National Geographic, the Maps department frequently gives away old, rejected, or torn maps; I’ve been digging through the pile all semester, and plan to wrap all of my gifts this year in them! Ribbons and bows are also very easy to re-use. Grab a bag and see how many streamers, bows, and other gift-garnishes you can collect this year. You’ll be surprised how fast your pile grows!
3. Conserve energy: No one enjoys those outrageous holiday displays, complete with 10 million colored, blinking lights that illuminate your house like a scene from an over-the-top Christmas movie. Keep it clean and classy with limited strands of light, or try taking the “natural” approach to decorating and accent your décor with pinecones, twigs, bittersweet, or other items you find outside. Cut out the lights on the inside tree, replacing them with a strand of cranberries and popcorn! (Here are five ways to deck your halls with food this holiday season.) Remember to unplug your lights when you leave the house or go to sleep.
4. Get out of the car: Rather than driving all around town searching for the house with the best lights, take a stroll with your family and enjoy the displays at a slower pace, and without contributing to the air pollution the folks over in Paris were debating last month! If you don’t live near a neighborhood with concentrated houses, drive to an area that does, park the car, and start your stroll there. (Use this Christmas Light Finder to see if there’s a display near you.)
5. Give back: Spend some time this holiday volunteering at a local homeless shelter, or even simply donate non-perishable food items to a food pantry or soup kitchen. Every little bit helps! Locate your local food bank here. As for all those holiday leftovers, start a compost pile to recycle your food. You can find tips on composting here.