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If you want to be eco-conscious, make sure your paper is made from 100-per-cent-recycled, chlorine-free material.
If you want to be eco-conscious, make sure your paper is made from 100-per-cent-recycled, chlorine-free material.

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Yes, you can have a green holiday Add to ...

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a light bulb was burning ... Well, some were burning, but they were energy-efficient LED bulbs, so it was all right. And the presents were wrapped in pretty fabric scraps and discarded newspaper instead of wasteful wrapping paper. And the tree was a relatively benign real one instead of a slightly more pernicious plastic model.

Don't think that Christmas and conservation can go hand in hand? Think again, Mr. Grinch. Having an environmentally friendly holiday need not leave you feeling like you've been Scrooged out of a good time.

"It's not about doing without [at Christmas] it's about doing it differently," says Lindsay Coulter, the David Suzuki Foundation's Queen of Green (yes, that's her official title). "A lot of people won't even notice."

What shouldn't go unnoticed is all the waste the holidays produce, something that is hard to ignore when you're wading through mounds of crumpled-up wrapping paper or trudging through a mall clutching 17 shopping bags destined for a landfill. Yes, paper is light, but the carbon footprint of Christmas is heavier than you probably think: A mere three days of Christmas festivities can result in as much as 650 kilograms of carbon-dioxide emissions per person, according to the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Even so, cutting down your carbon footprint over the holidays doesn't mean cutting out all the fun.

"It's not about sacrificing," Coulter says. Rather, it's a simple matter of giving extra thought to typical holiday events, from the turkey dinner to shopping for gifts to decorating the house.

By now, most people are aware of the environmental benefits of eating organic, locally grown food. But a green Christmas dinner doesn't stop there. To avoid polluting your body, for instance, avoid non-stick cookware. "Teflon, or PFOA, is a known human carcinogen," Coulter says.

Also, try to make your own cranberry sauce rather than eat the canned stuff - canned food can contain bisphenol A, a hormone disrupter.

As environmentalists regularly point out, taking baby steps such as these may not change the world, but it's better than doing nothing at all. Besides, baby steps can take you a long way.

When it comes to arranging parties, for example, simply picking up the phone is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint.

"Instead of sending out invitations to everybody, give them a good old-fashioned phone call," says Heather Marshall, a spokewoman for the Toronto Environmental Alliance. Barring that, send e-vites rather than paper cards.

Marshall also recommends making your own Christmas decorations. While plastic and glass baubles inevitably wind up in a landfill, homemade decorations can often go in the green bin when the holidays are over.

"I have great family memories of stringing popcorn and cranberries and it looked beautiful on the tree," Marshall says.

Other tips: Bring reusable bags when you go shopping and, if you're giving electronics as a gift, throw in reusable batteries and a charger.

When it comes to gift-giving, Marshall says, "opt for either things that are going to last a long time or an experience, like a massage or getting dance lessons or going to an art gallery or the theatre."

For those who want to go the extra mile, take a stand against packaging. "We encourage where possible to leave some of that packaging at the store. You don't have to deal with it at your home and you also send a signal to the companies that this type of packaging isn't always necessary," Marshall says.

The excess of the holidays can be overwhelming, but even individual efforts can reap big results, experts say. "You can figure out where you want to make an impact," Coulter says. "You don't have to do it all."

The best part, she adds, is the gift you're giving yourself by helping the environment. "Your reward is getting out and enjoying it, whether it's tobogganing or skating or a hike in the West Coast rain forest."

***

How holiday traditions measure up

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, is it better if you are plastic? For those worried about making the most eco-friendly choices over the holidays, fear not, because we're about to stuff your stocking with knowledge.

Real tree or fake tree?

Although a fake tree can last 20 years or longer, it's going to spend way more time in a landfill when you're done with it. Most eco groups suggest that you go with a real tree or, even better, a potted living tree that can be planted outside come spring. If you live in the Vancouver area, a company called Evergrow Christmas Trees allows you to rent a living tree that it will pick up after the holidays and replant.

A bad wrap?

While it's hard to deny the beauty of prettily wrapped presents lying under the tree, some wrapping paper contains toxins. At the very least, says the David Suzuki Foundation's Lindsay Coulter, make sure your paper is made from 100-per-cent-recycled, chlorine-free material. Even better is to skip the wrapping paper all together. Newspaper is a good alternative, as are fabric scraps and reusable bags.

Let there be lights?

Compared to traditional incandescent bulbs, LED lights save on energy and don't give off nearly as much excess heat, making them by far the greener choice. It's also a good idea to set lights on a timer to limit energy consumption. Having a house that gives off enough light to give neighbours a sunburn is cool, but there are other ways to show your Christmas spirit.

Dave McGinn

Follow on Twitter: @Dave_McGinn

 

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