EPA Insider’s Guide to a Greener, Cleaner, and Cheaper Holiday Season
This opt-ed is submitted by Adam Ortiz, EPA Regional Administrator for the Mid-Atlantic, covering Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and D.C.
As EPA’s Regional Administrator overseeing environmental laws in the Mid-Atlantic’s five states and the District of Columbia, I don’t often get the chance to talk about wrapping paper or the finer points of artificial vs natural Christmas trees. Like many things, there is an environmental factor that folks can keep in mind during this time of the year.
And what a time of year it can be – on top of all the things we do in our regular lives, the holiday season can add a lot to our to-do list. With the hustle and bustle this time of year, getting back to some environmental basics – reduce, reuse, and recycle – can actually make the holidays more manageable. Regardless of what or how you may celebrate, here are a few of my favorite tips to make the season a little cleaner, greener, cheaper, and simpler.
Gifts don’t always have to be new stuff
Let’s declare 2023 the year of the re-gift, and take the shame out of passing along unwanted but well-intentioned gifts of yesteryear to someone who may actually want it. You know what I’m talking about – oddly scented candles, the sweater that doesn’t quite fit, or those porcelain figurines that live in the bottom of a closet. Before sending to a landfill, think if there is anyone on your list who may give these things more love than you can give. Reduce, reuse, and regift!
Gifts don’t have to be stuff at all
My go-to favorite gifts actually are giving experiences instead of tangible things. Many of us have all the physical stuff we really need, and besides, it is the thought that counts. A thoughtful experience can create a lasting memory more cherished than an Amazon delivery. This year, plan a trip to a local museum, park, concert, or restaurant. If a family is looking to travel for the holidays or an upcoming outing, consider contributing towards their trip expenses.
Another option is giving a service of some kind. For my mom, some years I buy gift certificates for a local masseuse or a favorite restaurant she can take her friends to. She doesn’t need another coffee mug or serving platter anyway. Other options are things that you can do to help out – like cleaning the attic, painting a room, weeding a garden, or making a favorite meal. Make it cute and memorable by making a handmade gift certificate or using an online or Microsoft Word template.
Reuse and recycle Right
There are plenty of ways to save personal and environmental resources in our gift wrapping. The best thing to do is use those foldable paper gift bags because they are extremely reusable – so save the ones you receive and reuse for your gifting each year. You can also reuse the tissue paper year after year.
When choosing wrapping paper, avoid embossed or embellished gift wrap with glitters or plastics. These require more resources to manufacture and often aren’t recyclable. Not sure if your paper passes the green test? Try ripping it! If it tears easily, it’s safe to recycle. If not, it is layered with plastic film and must go in the trash.
While shopping local is best, when shopping online, try to combine mailings, opt for manufacturer’s packaging when able, or try leaving things in your virtual shopping cart for an extra day in case there are last-minute forgotten items.
To Tree or not to Tree
Ah, the great Christmas debate: artificial or real tree. Regardless of which you choose, there are a few things you may want to consider. If buying or using an artificial tree, you’ll have to use it for more than a decade to generate less of a carbon impact than buying a natural tree over the same period. If buying a live tree, try to find one that is sourced from local farms to reduce transportation impacts and support nearby agriculture. After the holidays, see if your community has tree pickup (they usually send them to a regional mulching facility). Also, here in Philly, we’re lucky to have several options from local composting to goat farms (for real, google it if you haven’t).
Avoid buying plastic or single-use decorations. Check outside for natural materials to use like evergreen branches, holly, or pinecones for garland. Also, thrift stores and online platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist abound with artificial trees and decorations of all kinds, and some of the vintage stuff can be kitschy and cool to have around the house.
Cleaner, greener, simpler, cheaper – all year round
You can apply these tips year-round, including gifting for birthdays. Also, like all good habits, these little actions certainly add up over time for a bigger impact on the environment.
There are plenty more ideas on this and related topics, so check out these EPA resources: Recycling & Sustainability. You can also follow us on social media where we post news, highlights, tips & other info: Facebook, X & Instagram.
For more, watch Adam’s tips here:
EPA’s Region 3 Office covers Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., and seven Tribal Nations.