LED LightsThe holidays are a wonderful time of year, full of joy, giving, friends and family. But they can also be a time of excess and waste. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, household waste increases by more than 25 percent. Here are a few tips to help you save money and reduce waste this holiday:

Get creative with gift wrapping
Did you know: Waste from gift wrap and shopping bags totals more than 4 million tons every year.

gift wrapped in newspaperOld newspapers and magazines are a fun and cheap way to wrap gifts, not to mention a great way to reduce paper waste.

If you prefer the look of traditional holiday wrap, try using holiday-themed fabrics to make reusable gift bags. (Tip: You can even use old holiday sweaters or PJ pants!)

Did you know: If every family reused 2 feet of holiday ribbon each year, it would save 38,000 miles of ribbon—enough to tie a bow around the entire planet.

Save and reuse your ribbons and bows, or, if you don’t have any, make your own. Get crafty by repurposing materials found around your house, like old newspapers and magazines.

Save more paper
Is your mail carrier groaning from the glut of unsolicited holiday catalogs he or she delivers to your home every day? Do yourself and the environment (and your mail carrier!) a favor and get off these mailing lists. You can either call the company that’s sending the catalogs and say “Take me off!” or visit www.catalogchoice.org to rid yourself of unwanted catalogs and other junk mail.

Real vs. fake
You may be surprised to learn that real Christmas trees are a more ecofriendly option than artificial trees for the holidays. Real trees sequester carbon while they are alive and are most often reused as compostable woodchips after they’re discarded. Fake trees are sometimes produced with PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, a common plastic made from petrochemicals that can also contain lead, cadmium and phthalates—all bad for the environment and you!

For an even “greener” evergreen, keep your eye out for trees native to the area grown by farmers who don’t use pesticides (or at least use organic ones).

Trim the tree with LEDs
LED lights run on about one-tenth the energy of conventional lights, and a variety of LED holiday lights are available. Use timers or easy on-off switches so you’re not wasting energy when you aren’t around to enjoy their festive glow.

Sustainable seafood mealConsume sustainable food
Buy local, seasonal, organic, free-range and sustainable food when possible. Look for local farms and farmers markets that are open for business in the winter; while the variety of fresh produce may be limited, this is a great time of year for apples, winter squashes, root vegetables, poultry and other kinds of meat, and even jams and jellies from summer’s bounty.

One of the best ways to minimize food waste is to take preventive action—plan your meals in advance and prepare smaller portions. Reuse leftovers by making a stock from the turkey or ham, or croutons or French toast with dried-out bread. Leftover meats and veggies make delicious casseroles, soups and stir-fries, too.

Be “green” while you clean
As we all know, holiday-sized parties come with holiday-sized cleanups. Use rags and sponges rather than paper towels, and opt for ecofriendly cleaning sprays (or make a 50/50 solution of water and non-GMO white vinegar).

You may be tempted to use disposable plates, napkins and cutlery for an easy cleanup, but they’ll live forever in a landfill. Consider the holidays as the perfect time of year to show off your beautiful china! If you don’t have enough for your party, borrow some from the neighbors or ask your guests to bring their favorite holiday mug or glass to drink out of for the night.

Gifts: Less is more
It’s true that the holidays are a time of giving, but that doesn’t mean you need to purchase something just for the sake of giving a gift. Think of fun alternatives to knickknacks—tickets to a concert or show, enrollment in a class, a donation to someone’s favorite charity in the recipient’s name, or a tasty treat like preserves from the farmers market. For that extra-special friend or family member, how about one of our Extraordinary Experiences? You'll find a unique Shedd experience for every budget.

How do you plan to “green up” your holiday? Happy holidays!

Madeline Caldwell, Great Lakes and sustainability team