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10 tips for sustainable holidays

How to celebrate while saving money and our planet.

Do the holidays take a toll on your bank account and raise your stress levels every year? When you consider potential impacts to the planet as well, there could be a big price to pay.

Fortunately, Denver Water’s sustainability team is here to help with these tips on ways to green up your celebrations and wallet this holiday season.

  1. Shop locally for your gifts and food

Shopping locally has a lot of benefits, both for the environment and your community. It means less driving, which reduces air pollution and carbon emissions, and helps reduce wasteful packaging often associated with ordering gifts online.

You also help your community by supporting local farmers, business owners and their employees. Did you know that for every dollar spent in a local store, up to $3.50 is brought into the local economy? Talk about a great return!

  1. Rethink your plate
    Fresh vegetables under water stream in colander. Photo credit: iStock.

While many people love the prime rib, turkey and ham typically served for holiday meals, consider that non-meat proteins and vegetables have a lower carbon footprint than meat (and dairy too). Also, your trainer and your doctor will be proud of you for making healthy food choices. You can also serve a smaller main course of meat, and let your side dishes shine to help reduce your footprint.

  1. Avoid wasting food

Since people often overbuy food for the holidays, it’s incredibly helpful to do thorough meal planning. Make a list and check it twice, because it’s easy to get distracted by all the seasonal treats in stores. It’s fine to cut back on the amount of food you prepare. You will probably still have plenty leftover, which you can share with your friends and family.

If you still have extra food or (gasp!) spoiled food, one of the best ways to deal with food waste is to compost. Check and see if your waste hauler provides a composting service, or start your own backyard pile. Denver Urban Gardens offers classes on at-home composting.

  1. Be smart about your energy use

Between heating your home, hanging lights and traveling, the holiday season is one of the most energy intensive times of the year. There are lots of ideas for reducing your energy use during the holiday season.

To keep the heating costs down, be sure to reverse your ceiling fan blade if you haven’t already, to push warm air down from the ceiling. If you’re hanging lights, use energy efficient LED lights. These are 80-90 percent more efficient than traditional lights. You should also set them on a timer to maximize efficiency.

  1. Recycle your electronic waste

It can be exciting to receive the latest technology as a holiday gift, but it is far less exciting to dispose of your old devices. But, did you know it is illegal to dump electronics waste in Colorado landfills?

Instead, find an electronics recycler near you. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has a list of electronics recyclers by county.

Holiday lights are another type of e-waste that is produced this time of year. If you live in Denver, take advantage of its free holiday light recycling program!

  1. Get creative with your gift wrapping
    Christmas tree with presents. Photo credit: Wikicommons/Julian Colton.

Did you know that many types of wrapping paper cannot be recycled? This includes paper with metallic, glitter or velvet on it.

You can use plain brown craft paper or get creative for wrapping gifts. Use old maps, old newspapers or magazine pages, or even another gift such as a scarf or a reusable metal tin.

Bows and ribbons also can’t be recycled, but like gift bags, they can be saved and reused for years.

  1. The great holiday debate: Real or fake?

For as long as artificial trees have existed, there has been a debate about which is better for the environment: a real tree or artificial tree? The answer is more complicated than you might think.

Artificial trees are typically shipped from overseas and made from plastic that cannot be recycled, and the ultimate destination for them is the landfill when things break or lights stop working. However, many artificial tree owners use their trees for many years to lessen this impact.

Real trees, often grown locally, absorb CO2 as they grow while producing oxygen for us to breath, and they can be composted at the end of the holidays. Denver even offers Treecycle, which chips trees into mulch that residents can use in the spring.

The good news is that there’s plenty of options for being sustainable. A few more articles to help you make an informed decision are here and here.

  1. Give the gift of sustainability

Still looking for great gift ideas for your friends and family? Think green!

Giving gifts like insulated water bottles, coffee mugs, reusable bags and utensils, and metal straws help encourage your gift recipients to live a more sustainable life all year long.

What about giving an experience? Things like concert or theater tickets to create memories with your loved ones are great, sustainable ideas for the holiday season.

Finally, consider gifts that give back. Many organizations offer promotions that provide to special causes or those in need when you make a purchase.

  1. Help keep your water use low

Do you have guests coming in to stay? Time to tune up your house, by making sure your faucets and toilets aren’t leaking, and if they are, be sure to get them fixed. It could be a great time to upgrade to high efficiency appliances.

Be a good host and fix your leaky and running toilets before holiday guests arrive. Photo credit: Denver Water.

And while Denverites understand the importance of efficient water use in our semi-arid climate, your guests might not. It’s a great educational opportunity to explain why we keep showers short and turn off the tap while brushing teeth or shaving.

Because you’re also encouraging your guests to drink lots of water to avoid altitude sickness, provide them a reusable water bottle during their stay so they can skip bottled water and enjoy some of the best tasting tap water around.

  1. Be grateful for what you have in your life

Perhaps the most sustainable thing you can do this holiday season is to be grateful for what you and your family already have. Since this book has been one of the most talked about in recent years, it seems like plenty of people are thinking about minimalism and how to deal with less stuff in general. Why add more to the mix?

Or … you can always be like this kiddo and be grateful for whatever presents you receive … even if it’s an avocado.