Posted December 20, 2011

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

Temple’s Office of Sustainability offers tips on staying green this season

After the presents have been unwrapped and the tree lights are boxed and returned to the attic, the stuff we don’t use — such as wrapping paper, greeting cards and holiday decorations — are left behind to litter local landfills.

On average, Americans throw away a million tons of trash weekly. During the holidays, that number increases to include an extra million tons of trash per week, including 38,000 miles of ribbon and 4 million tons of shopping bags and gift wrapping.

By taking a few simple steps and using a little creativity, the average household can significantly cut down on the amount of waste produced during the holiday, says Trang Pham, a senior hospitality and tourism management major and student outreach assistant in Temple's Office of Sustainability.

“I use newspaper or magazines to wrap all of my holiday gifts,” said Pham. “You already have it in your house; it’s inexpensive, pretty and recyclable.”

Every holiday, Pham, an avid crafter, makes her own ornaments from magazines, fliers and mailers. She used the origami style decorations to deck the Office of Sustainability and her home this season.

“Between fake trees and gift wrap the environmental impact during the holiday is enormous,” said Pham. “By planning ahead and taking a little extra time you can make your holiday more sustainable.”

It can be difficult to stay sustainable in the midst of the holidays. Temple University’s Office of Sustainability offers the following tips to make your celebrations greener:

  • Go authentic. An independent study has shown that an artificial Christmas tree creates emissions comparable to about 20 living trees. So unless you plan on keeping your fake tree for more than 20 years, getting the real thing is the better environmental option.
  • Switch the lights. Modern LED decorative lights consume a fraction of the power of their incandescent counterparts. And they last longer. LEDs operate much cooler as well, greatly reducing the risk of a fire.
  • Beeswax. When lighting up your Menorah, switch from traditional paraffin candles to those made of beeswax. Paraffin is a toxic by-product of petroleum. Extended use can impact the environment as well as the health of those around. Beeswax candles work just as well while burning cleanly. As an added bonus, they also don't drip and typically last longer.
  • Reduce. The most sustainable option for holiday decorations is to just use less. Turn on lights when it's dark and turn them off before you go to sleep. Instead of traditional wrapping paper, bag your gift and apply a bow. Keeping reduction in mind is an important step in becoming sustainable, even during the holidays.

Visit Temple's Office of Sustainability website for more holiday green tips.