Let's face it, for many of us the idea of going green falls up there with climbing Mount Everest: honorable and brave, but we'll probably never go all the way. The images of first lady Michelle Obama going green by planting an organic garden were sweet; but it still seemed like a stretch, possibly because we think it's such a huge lifestyle overhaul. Yet simple things like changing your lightbulbs, go a long way in reducing your carbon footprint, says author and environmental health expert, Alexandra Zissu. "Do what you feel comfortable doing and then give yourself a minute to see how you feel about it," she says.
Because we tend to consume (and waste) so much during the holidays, it's an especially important time to try to inject a little eco-sensibility into the party. Here are 13 ways to celebrate the season in an eco-friendly way.
Save money and energy by shopping for gifts online this year. A recent study from the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions found that shipping two 20-pound packages by overnight air uses 40% less fuel than driving 20 miles round-trip to the mall. See, online shopping does serve a greater good after all.
Upgrade your fridge
The refrigerator is the real star of the holiday season, but the older they are the more energy they consume. "Click on to energy.gov to see how much you can save on your energy bill per month by getting a new refrigerator," says Zissu. "Follow up by making sure the old one actually gets recycled."
Recycle, reuse your gift wrap
We accumulate 25% more garbage between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. Gift wrap made from recycled materials like flax and hemp is equally colorful and affordable. Be sure to reuse or recycle any old gift warp.
Instill a 'no-shoes indoors' policy
Shoes track in dirt and harmful pesticide residue, says Zissu. Ask your guests to take off their shoes so your carpet stays clean, therefore reducing your reliance on harsh products like carpet cleaner.
Cook with iron caste pots
Nonstick and Teflon pots can emit toxic particles and gases. Cast iron pots are cheap and add iron to your meal.
Use organic ingredients whenever you can
You might plan to throw down this holiday. If you can't go organic for every meal then shop organic for the "dirty dozen", says Zissu. These are the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables, including apples, strawberries, kale and celery. Download the dirty dozen guide at foodnews.org.
Meat factories generally use an inordinate amount of pesticides and fertilizers. Consider buying your turkey and ham from a local organic farm this year. "A recent estimate found that 50% of global carbon emissions could be tracked to the industrial production of meat," says greenirene.com eco-consultant, Gideon Banner."
Skip the plastic bags
With all the groceries you're be buying, chances are you'll be hauling a lot of plastic bags this holiday. Plastic often sits at a landfill for a lifetime so opt for reusable grocery bags, like those at reusablebags.org, which are both stylish and planet-friendly.
Turn on the dishwasher
Thankfully you don't have to hand wash that pileup of dishes. By some estimates, one dishwashing cycle actually uses less water than washing by hand.
Clean up with green products
Turns out your nana knew best. That water and vinegar solution she used to clean windows was both eco-friendly and effective. If you can't quite commit to going all the way green, try using the most diluted amount of cleaning products like bleach, says Zissu.
Adjust your thermostat and pull your blinds up
There's no use in heating an empty house. Lowering your thermostat by at least two degrees this winter won't be as bad as you think. A programmable thermostat makes for automatic temperature adjustments and saves you money. Leaving the shades up allows for more sunlight to heat up your home during the day. Reversing the direction of ceiling fans also helps push warm air down.
Install a low-flow showerhead
Everybody's home for the holidays; which means lots of showers. On average a shower gushes out about 3.5 gallons of water per minute; way more than most people need. A low-flow emits about 1.5 gallons and is just as great, says Banner. Also add low-flow aerators (about $5) to sinks around the house. You'll save money on your gas and water bill.
Give back what you don't use
"If you don't use it there's always someone who can reuse it," says Banner. For example, Nike accepts old sneakers and uses for recycled basketballs. UPS will take back foam packaging. And your local dry cleaner may even take back wire hangers, he adds.
Get more ideas on 'greenproofing' your home from Alexandra Zissu at www.alexandrazissu.com
Get more info about eco-consulting by Gideon Banner at www.greenirene.com