Twenty-five percent more. That’s how much extra waste U.S. households generate every year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. This adds up to one million extra tons of junk we dump into an already stressed environment, all in the name of holiday cheer. Not to mention the increased emissions from energy used for holiday lighting and transportation. Yikes!

If you care about the planet, it’s easy to get upset about holiday waste. But don’t let it turn you into a Scrooge. Making sour comments about holiday celebrations won’t stop the damage, and may even backfire by turning people against your cause. Instead, ramp up the holiday cheer and celebrate to your heart’s content! Just be smart and do it in ways that support the environment — or at least don’t damage it.

Embracing sustainability over the holiday season is easier than you think. Here are some top ideas to get you started.

cranberriesGreener Holiday Decorating
Rather than buying new holiday decorations, dig through your closets or attic. You may be surprised how many forgotten treasures you find that bring back lovely memories of past seasons. If you really don’t have enough, consider shopping at thrift or antique stores before buying new. It’s easy to find nice ornaments at such places. Or, make some yourself using old paper, clothing and other materials.

Food is fun to decorate with, too. Why not bake a batch of old-fashioned gingerbread boys and girls and hang them on the tree or over the mantle? You can also string popcorn and cranberries, or make pomanders out of oranges and cloves.
The one type of decoration you should definitely buy new is holiday lights. Energy Star certified decorative light strings last up to 10 times longer and burn half the energy of conventional holiday lighting. Enjoy them wisely by turning them off when you go to bed or leave the house.

Reducing Your Food Footprint for the Holidays
For most of us, the holidays revolve around food. Choosing local, organic and sustainably produced food can make your holiday meals even more special. Since meat production has the biggest environmental impact, purchasing local, pasture-raised meat will make the biggest impact. Or, enjoy a vegetarian holiday meal.

crockpotDid you know that energy bills rise during the holidays? One big reason is all that kitchen activity. You can keep yours reasonable by following these holiday cooking tips:

• No peeks: Keep the oven door closed during cooking time.
• Use your appliances wisely: Slow-cookers, toaster ovens and microwaves are usually more efficient then your oven, unless you are baking a large item (like a turkey), or many small items at once.
• Ditch the warped pans: If you have an electric range, make sure there is contact between the burner and the pan. You should also choose the correct size burner for the pan you’re using.

pickles-blumer1979Sustainable Holiday Shopping
Most holiday waste comes from gift packaging, transport and unwanted gifts. This year, think carefully and choose gifts that benefit all humanity by reducing or eliminating waste. Here are some ideas:
• Give consumable items like food. People eat anyway, so you won’t be adding to the waste stream.
• Choose items made from recycled or repurposed materials.
• Give intangible items such as a gift certificate to a local spa.
• Consider making a charitable donation in honor of the recipient in lieu of a gift.
• Reduce packaging waste by re-using wrapping paper, or choosing a pretty, re-usable box as the wrapper.
Of course, these ideas are just a start. What are some ways you have found to enjoy the holidays with a lighter footprint?

Ryan McNeill is the president of Renewable Energy Corporation, one of the Mid-Atlantic’s largest residential solar energy companies – committed to installing quality, American-made solar panels and energy products for homeowners.