Mind & Body

Have Yourself a Merry—and Sustainable—Holiday

Think of environmental consciousness as taking a step back and focusing on the season.
Have Yourself a Merry—and Sustainable—Holiday
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The Best Gift
Skipping gifts altogether may be too Scrooge-like but a meaningful medium can be found. Consider ways to avoid a shopping hangover while coming up with ideas for gifts that might actually be appreciated. For many, a return to handmade gifts has put the fun back into the holidays. As an alternative, gifts of service (e.g., car washing, dog walking, foot massaging) have no environmental impact and plenty of personal significance.

Rather than asking friends and family members what they want, ask them what they want to do. "We often give tickets to shows or concerts—it has a certain intimacy," says Allen Hershkowitz, Ph.D., senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "One of our sons is a pianist, so we get him tickets to concerts to stimulate his mind and soul. Another son is into sports so we buy him tickets to sports events. We try to avoid material things if at all possible."

If you must whip out your credit card, antiques are eco-friendlier and more distinctive than new purchases. And don't be reluctant to "re-gift" unwanted trinkets, perhaps by hosting a white elephant exchange party; you may not want that set of designer poker chips, but your friend the gambling buff will love it. Finally, take a look at Natural Health's Great Green Gift Guide for eco-friendly and charitable gift ideas.

Gonna Wrap My Heart in Ribbons
IF YOU TAKE THE TIME to come up with personalized gifts, it's a shame to use generic wrapping paper, particularly when you're trying to think green. "The paper industry has one of the largest ecological footprints in the world," notes Hershkowitz. "Using recycled paper is a very, very important thing to do during the holidays; you reduce forestry, water, energy, and global warming impacts."

Take those Christmas cards: A 10 percent reduction in the 750 million greeting cards sent annually could save about 30,000 trees. And if every house in America reused just 2 feet of ribbon this year, the resulting 38,000 miles would tie a bow around the planet.

Certainly, you can reuse paper and ribbons, as well as replenish your wrapping supplies from companies that utilize recycled materials. But why not expand your gift-wrap horizons? Create your own from discarded fashion magazines, comics, or out-of-date maps. Or bypass paper altogether. Colorful dish towels, sheets, or scarves work as wrappers (or the presents themselves), and swap meets are filled with vintage boxes and tins that may be as unique as the gift inside.

Here We Come A-wassailing
OVERCONSUMPTION extends from the mall to the buffet table: the amount of food waste at holidays can be enormous. The easiest way to avoid the waste is simply to cook less. Organic chef Akasha Richmond advises doing some math before turning on the stove. "Who is going to eat more than 6 ounces of protein total in a holiday buffet? Most people won't. So calculate," she says. Three to 4 ounces per person per side dish is generous, while a 9-inch pie can satisfactorily serve eight.

To indulge, Richmond suggests upping the quality rather than the quantity. "Don't make so many things, but make what you do make the best," she explains. "Get the best chocolate, and serve one fabulous chocolate dessert, rather than two or three."

Be judicious when serving yourself as well. "The moment you put food on your plate, it has no value," Lilienfeld points out. "What remains on the serving tray can be used again." Have a plan for what to do with leftovers; e.g., pick up the ingredients for turkey soup (celery, carrots, onion, parsley, garlic, and noodles) when you buy the bird so scraps won't spoil before you can return to the market.

Instead of fueling the garbage can this year, give some of your abundance to others. Send extra food home with guests. Although food drives and homeless shelters won't take your leftovers, they greatly value unopened food donations, as well as volunteers.

"In our home during the holidays we make a point of reminding our children how fortunate they are, and we often discuss income disparities," says Hershkowitz. "We give gifts of food and clothing to people who have less than we do in lieu of taking more for ourselves. During times when materialism seems to be celebrated so aggressively, educating our children about the less privileged people in this world is most urgent. And it's a very satisfying thing to do."