Were you aware that every year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans generate 25 million extra tons of garbage? That amounts to 1 million additional tons of waste per week.

The holidays can represent a warm, magical time of year in which we show our appreciation of each other through celebrations and gift-giving. Unfortunately, it can also become a time of overconsumption and wastefulness. But with a bit of innovation and commitment, this holiday season can become an opportunity to create new traditions that help protect the environment not only for this holiday season but also for generations to come.

If interested in celebrating an eco-friendlier holiday this year, follow these easy steps to reduce waste, conserve resources, and still enjoy favorite traditions.

We can show our gratitude for our magnificent planet and show the world that living in harmony with our bodies and the earth around us is not a dream but a very attainable reality.

Buy locally grown foods

A plant-based menu is a change that can have a significant positive impact on the environment. The holidays are a time to celebrate the harvest with the wonderful flavors, colors, and textures of autumnal veggies and fruits. Buying locally grown foods is an easy way to be eco-friendly. Try to make most holiday dishes plant-based. However, if a turkey is a must-have, purchase pasture-raised from a local farmer.

Look for products in recyclable packaging

When shopping at the grocery store, look for products that come in recyclable packaging, such as cardboard boxes, recyclable plastic, tin or aluminum cans, and glass bottles and jars. The more items we can recycle, the more we can cut down on packaging in the landfill.

Use real plates, utensils, and glasses

Disposable plates and utensils lead to plenty of excess waste. Instead, use real plates and utensils for meals. The holidays present an opportune time to use the “good china.” Use cloth napkins instead of paper ones. If disposable dishes are a must, buy compostable plates and biodegradable utensils.

Reduce your plastic use

For leftovers after the holiday meal, opt for glass storage containers that are safer and can be used numerous times. Also, use reusable shopping bags and serve tap water instead of bottled.

Use nature for decorations

Be creative when decorating. Nature offers decorative items such as pine cones, leaves, berries, and flowers that make festive centerpieces when added to a glass vase. Use LED lights and a timer to save energy.

Purchase a live tree that can be replanted in the yard or donated to a school or park. A live, potted tree can serve our holiday needs and then beautify our yard for years into the future. A live tree provides an ongoing remembrance of the holidays, cleans our air, and helps protect the planet from global warming.

If a cut tree is selected, create a bird sanctuary by placing it outdoors for birds to nest in till spring, when it will make great mulch, or make sure it is recycled or composted rather than thrown into a landfill.

Think green when giving

Give consumable gifts such as cards to restaurants, tickets for a favorite musician or sports team, a gift certificate for a pottery class, yoga, or dance class. Make the gift personal, and the memory of the experience will last forever.

The gifts we make ourselves are always unique. Jams, jellies, flavored vinegars and oils, Christmas cookies, soaps, and candles are excellent gifts.

You can make an early New Year’s resolution to keep being green. Commit to maintaining green habits even after the holidays. Remember to reduce, reuse, and recycle. With a little innovation and commitment, we can keep giving gifts to the earth all year long.

Nancy J. Schaaf is a retired English/literature educator and also a retired nurse.

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