From the moment the last of the Halloween candy has been handed out, it seems the Christmas season has begun. Amidst all the buying and baking, wrapping and decorating, take time to think about the impact the holiday season can potentially make on the environment.

Decorating is often the first thing on a holiday to-do list. Whether your taste consists of tastefully coordinated, Martha-Stewart-approved garlands or an inflatable Yoda dressed as Santa on the front lawn, you can make choices in your decorating that will lessen the impact on the environment – if not the atmosphere of your neighborhood. LED lights use 80 percent less energy than traditional Christmas tree lights. What’s more, if you leave those conventional lights on for 10 hours a day over the 12 days of Christmas, you’ll produce enough carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases, to inflate 64 party balloons. LED lights are also cheaper to operate, last longer and produce little heat, so they are safer. Every year at the beginning of the season, Home Depot offers a coupon for $5 to $8 off new LED lighting when shoppers trade in their old incandescent lights.

Shopping is another factor to consider. Instead of driving all over town and sitting in traffic while your car pumps out carbon dioxide and uses up gas, try shopping closer to home. Check out local shops that offer unique gift options with the added benefit of supporting your neighborhood: for every $100 spent in local businesses, about $68 stays in the community. The big box stores lure shoppers with lower prices, but the cost to the environment is greater: most of those items were shipped by air or sea over thousands of miles, resulting in greater fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Green Christmas

After all the shopping has been done, those gifts need to be wrapped. Each year, approximately 4 million tons of waste is attributed to wrapping paper, shopping and gift bags. Furthermore, most gift wrap is not recyclable due to the type of fibers and dyes used in its production. As an alternative, consider using recycled paper, reusing gift bags, or, better yet, try fabric gift wrap. The idea of using fabric to wrap and carry parcels originated in Japan, where it is known as furoshiki. From its original humble purpose of transporting bundles of clothing, furoshiki has become a popular earth-friendly way to wrap gifts. Many tutorials and ideas for wrapping with fabric can be found online.

Holiday cards also contribute to the paper pandemic. Choose cards that are printed on recycled paper, or skip the paper altogether and send an e-card. One option for saving paper, while helping kids in need, is the Recycled Card Program of St Jude’s Ranch, a program for abused and at-risk children. Contributions of used greeting cards are recycled by removing the front and attaching it to a new backing. These repurposed cards are sold on their website (www.stjudesranch.org), where you can also learn about how to donate the cards you receive to the program.

By the time the holidays are over, the trash trucks are brimming. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generate 25 percent more trash from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. That adds up to about 1 million extra tons of trash every year. Instead of adding to landfills by throwing all that packaging away, recycle all those cardboard inserts and boxes. Put away gift bags to reuse next year. Fold up any non-recyclable gift wrap and salvage it for next year, just like your thrifty grandma used to do.

If you have a live Christmas tree, don’t just toss it to the curb. Local waste disposal companies specify certain days for tree recycling. Be sure to remove all ornaments, garland, tinsel, lights and other decorations first. Trees can be turned into mulch, which is used to prevent soil erosion. Apartment dwellers and those who don’t have curbside trash service can drop off their Christmas trees at the Old Kings Road landfill/recycling center in Jacksonville.

This holiday season, consider giving a gift to Mother Nature: a greener Christmas.