3 Ways to Start the Season on a More Sustainable Foot

The holidays may bring inherent excess, but you can celebrate and keep your eco-friendly values intact. Mindy Pennybacker, author of "Do One Green Thing" and editor of GreenerPenny.com, offers three simple ways to green your season.

Q: I have to ship a lot of holiday presents to my family. How can I do it less wastefully?
A:The best thing is to order and send gifts early, ideally at least six weeks in advance. Last-minute air delivery burns more fossil fuels than boats or trucks and releases the most global-warming CO2.

A better choice is a lightweight gift or one that requires no shipping at all (such as theater, concert, or sports tickets held at a will-call window).

It can also be greener to buy in your gift recipients' locales. As you make your list, ask your far-flung family members about their favorite stores and order from there (which also makes returns simpler).

If several recipients live in the same town, send a batch of gifts from the same merchant, which saves on fuel miles. Finally, when you order, forgo gift boxes and ask retailers to minimize packaging and use recycled materials.

Q: Is it bad to use wrapping paper as fireplace kindling?
A: You've got the right idea to reuse wrapping paper rather than tossing it in the trash. An additional five million tons of waste -- including four million tons of paper -- is generated in the U.S. every holiday. However, destroying reusable paper is less green than saving it to wrap other gifts, make greeting cards, or use as scrap paper.

Burning it is also unhealthy: Fireplaces are a leading source of lung-clogging particulate air pollution and toxic carbon monoxide. The inks and metals in conventional gift papers may contain heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, that are unhealthy to send up in smoke.

Using a real tree from a farm doesn't just fill your home with that festive pine scent, it generates almost three times less greenhouse gases than using an artificial tree. A study by Ellipsos, a Montreal firm that specializes in sustainability metrics, considered the greenhouse gases emitted in production, transportation, and disposal of each option (including the tree stand and water). Even though fake trees are used on average for six years, they're often plastic and made in China. Best move: Find an organic farm and recycle your tree responsibly post-holiday. Consult your local municipal solid waste or parks department about pick-up or drop-off days for mulching, or search by zip code at Earth911.org.

-- Mindy Pennybacker is the author of "Do One Green Thing."

Related:15 Kitchen Shortcuts That Will Change the Way You Cook

Want to make an even greener holiday choice?

Keep a live plant that you can decorate year after year. Here are three potted options.

Lemon Tree
A citrus plant can thrive indoors during the winter as long as you give it plenty of direct sunlight during the day. Place the tree near a south-facing window.

Related: 19 Tips for Perfect Laundry Every Time

Norfolk Island Pine
This mini pine with Charlie Brown-esque charm grows best in bright (but not full) sun and away from heat.

Myrtle Topiary
To keep myrtles healthy, give them some direct sun and keep the soil moist. Prune growth regularly to keep the lovely round shape.

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