The Environmental Advocate: Tips for greening your holidays


    By Laura Spehar

    During the holiday season, waste disposal increases 25 percent in the United States, causing an extra 5 billion pounds of waste to go into our landfills. If that weren’t shocking enough, toxic PVCs can be found in some children’s toys, especially if they are the plastic ones.

    Vinyl chloride, the chemical used to make PVC, is a known human carcinogen. Additives, such as lead and cadmium, are sometimes added to PVC to keep it from breaking down; these additives can be particularly dangerous in children’s toys. PVC is also the least recycled plastic.

    So you may be asking yourself, “Where do we go from here during the holidays?”
    Good news! We can feel better about ourselves and our choices by choosing natural, eco-friendly products. We can also do a few things to encourage our families and friends to think green this holiday season by setting an example. Here are a few ideas on ways you can set that green example this year…

    Don’t buy wrapping paper
    Reuse old wrapping paper or put your gifts in reusable bags or boxes. Be creative — used scarves, magazines or calendars make great patchwork bags or collage wrapping paper. People love children’s artwork! A good resource for creative ideas is

    Decorate with natural materials
    You can make beautiful holiday decorations with items found in nature: A bowl of evergreen boughs and fresh fruit; a basket filled with fallen branches, winter berries and pine cones; and seasonal plants like poinsettias make inexpensive holiday décor. Once the holidays are over, your decorations can be added to the compost pile.

    Celebrating Hanukkah? Use soy-based candles
    Soy candles are made from renewable resources and last twice as long as conventional paraffin candles. Beeswax candles are another health-friendly, planet-friendly option.

    Send tree-free holiday cards
    There are great on-line greeting card services out there and most are free to use.

    Change your lighting ways

    Leaving your holiday lights turned on 24 hours a day will quadruple the energy costs and create four times the pollution as leaving them on for six hours. Set a timer to turn the lights on at dusk and leave them on until you go to bed. The use of LED lights will also lower your electric bill.

    Shop locally, fair and organic
    Support local family farmers who grow sustainable meat and produce. A great stocking stuffer is “guilt-free” chocolate! Give the gift of organic, fair-trade chocolate and you can eat your way to a better planet.

    Use fabric tablecloths, napkins and silverware
    Try and avoid as much disposable paper products as you can. If you can’t do the fabric then look for compostable paper and utensil products.

    If you’re giving a battery-powered gift…
    Include a rechargeable battery and charger with the gift. Remember to manage your electronic and cell phone waste. Many gifts during the holidays are tech gadgets that replace older, outdated, or unwanted electronics. Make sure that they are properly disposed of through e-waste recycling. Each year, 130 million cell phones are thrown out, weighing approximately 65,000 tons. Recycling your old phone prevents hazardous elements like mercury, cadmium and lead from ending up in our landfills

    Donate leftover food
    Instead of throwing away unused food, donate it to a local food bank. The Edmonds Library entrance has a non-perishable and canned food bin drop.

    Adjust the thermostat
    Remember that the more guests in your home, the lower your thermostat can go. After all, more people generate more body heat and you’ve probably got your oven running for some holiday baking which warms your kitchen as you cook. Adjusting the thermostat by just two degrees is the equivalent of losing 2,000 pounds of carbon emissions annually and almost $100 in energy costs. That’s the same as driving a car more than 3,000 miles!
    Consider a living tree rental
    How about buying (or renting) a tree in a container this year? If you don’t have room to plant it in your yard after the holidays call the Edmonds Parks Dept. to see about a donation to a local park. Some places like the Adopt-A-Stream Center in Everett are having tree rentals and once the holidays are over you return the tree to be planted next to local streams to provide shade for salmon runs. Too late this year to rent or buy in a container? Consider not adding your tree to a landfill but calling 1-800-CLEANUP or visit to find a tree-recycling program near you. Locally, you can watch for the Boy Scouts advertisements for on pick-up and drop-off locations for tree-cycling.

    Laura Spehar is a Montessori teacher and environmental educator. She is a WSU Master Gardener, Beach Watcher and Carbon Master, and holds certifications in wildlife habitat and native plant stewardships. Spehar serves on the Snohomish Conservation District’s Advisory Board, Pilchuck Audubon Society Board, Friends of the Edmonds Library Board, and the City of Edmonds Mayor’s Climate Action Committee Board and Tree Board. She was chosen as Edmonds’ Citizen of the Year in 2011 and awarded the National Wildlife Federation’s National Conservation Service Award in 2010. Spehar lives in Edmonds with her husband Paul and their two dogs Goldie and Happy on two acres of well-loved and protected wetland/stream side habitat.

    3 Replies to “The Environmental Advocate: Tips for greening your holidays”

    1. This is a very good overview of practical measures we can take. I would add a note to parents: unplug your television between Halloween and Christmas so the kids are not brainwashed into thinking they must have the latest expensive toys. Make or find something that will get them outside and into more exercise.


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