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Region 1: EPA New England

Questions About Your Community: What steps can I take to make my holiday an eco-cool event that is both joyful and good for the earth?

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As we enter the holiday season, consumers flock to malls, department stores and outlets in droves to search for that perfect gift, that one card that says it all, that tree to end all trees. But as we feast, give gifts, decorate and travel, we also consume lots of resources and generate lots of waste.

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwaanza and New Years have special meaning to all of us, but this year's festivities don't necessarily have to negatively impact our environment. There are a number of measures that all of us can take to lessen the amount of trash we produce -- and the amount of time we spend on the road -- without having to put a damper on the holiday season.


  • Buy cards made from recycled paper (look for "post-consumer" content) and printed in non-toxic inks.
  • Buy cards and envelopes that can be recycled in your town. Choose cards printed on white stock without metallic or plastic coatings.
  • Buy cards wrapped in the least bulky or most recyclable packaging.
  • Consider substituting postcards for cards that require envelopes.
  • Reuse the fronts of old holiday cards as gift tags.

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  • Decorate with more energy efficient LEDs (light emitting diodes) strings rather than the larger, old fashioned lights. LEDs, are small light sources that are illuminated by the movement of electrons through a semiconductor material. LEDs are exceptionally energy efficient when producing individual colors, many using up to 90% less energy than an incandescent bulb to produce the same amount of light. For example, the amount of electricity consumed by just one 7-watt incandescent bulb could power 140 LEDs — enough to light two 24-foot (7.3-meter) strings. And be sure to turn them on only when someone's around to appreciate them.
  • Wrap gifts using old newspapers or paper bags.
  • Avoid foil and plastic-embossed paper because it uses more resources in its manufacturing process.
  • When you're not enjoying a fire in your fireplace, close the flue and block the hearth to prevent heat loss.

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  • Store leftovers in reusable containers.
  • Buy food gifts with as little packaging and processing involved as possible.

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  • Review the list of recyclables that your town or city accepts and be sure to send all the applicable paper, plastic, glass bottles and aluminum cans to the recycling center.

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  • Bring your own bags on shopping trips so shops won't have to give you new ones with your purchases.
  • Don't accept a new gift box with your purchase if you have a supply of old ones, or try to wrap it without a box.
  • Use your legs or mass transit when shopping or buy your gifts by phone or on the web.
  • Make a decision to patronize shops in areas you can walk or bike to, rather than the ones you have to drive to. When you need to drive, combine several errands into one trip or travel with friends.

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  • If you are traveling during the holidays consider taking public transportation or car pooling with friends or relatives.

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  • Buy a living tree you can plant outside or keep as a houseplant after the holidays.
  • Buy a tree grown locally to save energy associated with transportation.
  • Buy a smaller tree. There's less to dispose of when you take it down, and shorter growing time translates into less land required.
  • If your town doesn't have a tree chipping/reuse system, ask why.

EPA NE wishes you a safe and enjoyable holiday season.

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